Celebrities including Peter Gabriel, Lauren Laverne, Annie Lennox and Michael Morpugo have signed an open letter about the worst food crisis of the 21st century.

“East Africa is facing the worst food crisis of the 21st century,” states the letter. "Livestock are dying, markets are empty, food prices are rocketing and people are starving. Levels of acute malnutrition among refugees fleeing Somalia are some of the highest seen in decades.

“Across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, 12 million people are in dire need of clean water, food and basic sanitation. Loss of life on a massive scale is a very real risk, and the crisis is set to worsen over the coming months.

“While severe drought has undoubtedly led to the huge scale of the disaster, this crisis has been caused by people and policies as much as nature. The global food system is clearly not working. Five of the past seven years have seen poor or failed rains across the region – if action had been taken earlier it could have helped mitigate the severity of the current crisis. Pastoralists’ ability to cope with drought has been systematically undermined, as land traditionally used in times of emergency has been sold off or allocated for tourism, national parks and large-scale agriculture.

“A massive increase in emergency aid is needed right now to save lives and to protect livelihoods, so that people can rebuild once the crisis is over. Oxfam is launching its largest ever emergency appeal for Africa to raise £50m to reach 2.5 million people. It’s vital that governments and donors also invest in longer term support for these areas, to help people cope with increasingly frequent droughts and to prevent future crises.

“There’s no time to waste. We must not stand by and watch this tragedy unfold.”

Also signing the letter are Laura Bailey, William Boyd, Jonathan Coe, Livia Firth, David Gandy, Mark Haddon, Sally Hawkins, Victoria Hislop, photographer Rankin and Colin Thubron.

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