UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell visits Kenya to meet children affected by the Horn of Africa drought and climate crisis

04 May 2023
On 2 May 2023 in Kenya, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell meets 17-month-old Zakariya and her mother while visiting the stabilization centre at the Garissa County Referral Hospital, where Zakariya is being treated for malnutrition.

NAIROBI/NEW YORK, 4 May 2023 – UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell travelled to eastern Kenya yesterday to meet families and refugees struggling to recover from the worst climate-induced drought to hit the region in 40 years.

After five poor or failed rainy seasons in the last three years in the Horn of Africa, many families lost their cattle, crops and entire livelihoods, putting the lives of over 1.5 million children at risk due to severe acute malnutrition. Even after recent rainfall, the parched ground is unable to absorb all the water, leading to flooding and further devastation.

“Rain has finally started to come, giving people hope, but it is a long road to recovery.  Children are still hungry, they are at risk of cholera, they need to be in school, and many have no prospects for going home. It will take time and commitment by the international community for these communities to begin to recover,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell after a visit to drought affected Garissa followed by Dadaab refugee camp.

“Families have lost most of their livestock and new crops will take months to grow. Now they face flooding. One woman explained how torrents of water washed away her few precious possessions including the mattress she and her baby sleep on.”

Drought in the Horn of Africa has been compounded by years of conflict and insecurity, the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, and rising food and fuel prices, partly due to the war in Ukraine. Across the region, the cost of cooking oil, bread and wheat flour remain high in local markets.  Many families cannot afford the basic necessities to survive. 

In Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, more than 2.5 million people have been displaced due to drought. As families are driven to the brink, children are going hungry, missing school, forced into child labour or early marriage and becoming sick, including from cholera outbreaks. With the cycles of drought followed by flooding, the next devastating crisis may hit before children and their families have had a chance to recover. 

“I met two little boys, Khalid and Khalil, who had recovered from malnutrition with the intervention of UNICEF and partners. In order to support the recovery of children like them, it’s imperative that humanitarian responses are sustained and that the systems children rely on are strengthened,” said Russell. “That includes improving access to therapeutic foods and essential nutrition, ensuring access to water and health services, providing livelihood opportunities and strengthening social protection systems to mitigate the climate crisis.”

In Garissa County in north-east Kenya, Russell visited a UNICEF-supported stabilization centre for children with severe malnutrition, as well as out-patient services for those in recovery. She also met children who had recovered from the worst form of malnutrition as a result of receiving life-saving ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), provided by UNICEF with funding from United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Meanwhile, in Dadaab, near the Somalian border, Russell met with newly arrived refugees from Somalia at the Ifo Refuge Camp, where UNICEF is working with partners to provide nutrition, child protection and education. She visited a health post providing out-patient health and nutrition services, including for the cholera response, and spoke to families receiving child protection services, including the prevention of child marriage.

“Families continue to arrive in Dadaab from Somalia desperately hoping to survive,” said Russell. “UNICEF is grateful to the Government of Kenya for their renewed support to incoming refugees and the local communities, who are themselves affected by the drought. We must respond to these emergencies while building long-term resilience in vulnerable areas.”

UNICEF is working with governments and partners across the region to support millions of children in need. In 2022 alone, UNICEF and partners reached nearly 2 million children and women in the Horn of Africa with essential life-saving health care services; provided services for the prevention of malnutrition to over 30 million children and mothers; treated almost 1.3 million children under 5 for severe acute malnutrition; and provided safe water for almost 4.6 million people, including renovation of boreholes and systems to provide safe water to schools, health centres and communities.

This year, UNICEF is appealing for US$759 million to provide life-saving support to 16.6 million people — including 12.2 million children — in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Of that, US $137.5 million is needed for Kenya. An additional US $690 million is required to provide climate-sensitive resilience support to communities across the affected areas in 2023 and 2024.

Media contacts

Sema Hosta
Chief of Communication
UNICEF in Türkiye
Tel: + 90 312 454 10 10


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