Famine looms in South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia

Looming famine threatens children’s lives in South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen and Somalia

More than one million children are at imminent risk of dying from life-threatening malnutrition.

By Action Against Hunger

Feb 24 2017

‘Conflict, acute food shortages, disease and widespread displacement have led to unprecedented levels of child hunger in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Famine has recently been declared in parts of Unity state in the northern central part of South Sudan - the first time famine to be declared anywhere in the world since the 2011 crisis in the Horn of Africa.

But South Sudan is not the only country facing catastrophe. Children in Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria are at risk of famine too. 

“The lives of millions of young children are hanging in the balance,” said Jean Michel Grand, Executive Director for Action Against Hunger. “Many of them will not reach their fifth birthday. Our immediate priority today is to save lives. But needs are immense and, in many of the affected areas, we have reached a deadly tipping point. Humanitarian efforts must be scaled up immediately to help children survive. We must prevent another catastrophe.” 

Preventable hunger threatens lives

South Sudan has already plunged into a preventable hunger catastrophe, with 100,000 people facing famine in Unity State. Nearly 1 in two people – 4.9 million people - are in urgent need of food assistance whilst an estimated 1 million people in other parts of South Sudan are on the brink of famine. Political upheaval and ongoing conflict - combined with widespread insecurity, inflation, food deficits and an unstable economy - have contributed to this spiraling humanitarian emergency. 

In Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, an estimated 540,000 young children are at risk of dying from hunger this year. The conflict between security forces and Boko Haram in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, marked by extreme violence against civilians, has had a devastating impact on the lives of innocent children and their families, leading to widespread displacement, violations of international humanitairan law and an escalating humanitarian crisis.

In Somalia, half of the population is estimated to be in urgent need of humanitarian assistance as they struggle to survive with limited access to health facilities, food and water. Children are bearing the brunt of the situation: an estimated 363,000 malnourished children are in danger unless they receive immediate life-saving treatment. Just six years after a devastating famine in the region claimed the lives of an estimated 250,000 people, another man-made disaster catastrophe looms. 

In Yemen, an estimated 3.2 million people have been internally displaced since the conflict escalated - mainly women and children. 14.1 million Yemenis do not know where their next meal will come from. In Hodeidah governate alone, a shocking one in three children suffer from severe acute malnutrition. 

Time is running out to save lives

Action Against Hunger teams are present in all four countries, providing lifesaving treatment for malnourished children and urgent access to food and water for their families. Our multisector emergency teams are responding, supporting emergency assessments and lifesaving humanitarian action where it is most needed.

Where we and partner organisations have access, we can and are saving lives. 

But without political solutions and safe, unconditional access to populations in need, suffering will increase and more children will die. 

Humanitarian workers face tremendous challenges in reaching malnourished children whose lives depend on urgent treatment and accessing sufficient funding to scale up programmes. In total breach of international humanitarian law, people are denied the lifesaving assistance they depend on for their survival. 

“Famines are manmade. The warning signs are impossible to miss. The world shares a collective responsibility to take action today to prevent people from sliding even deeper into tragedy. The time to act is now: we cannot deny children a future,” said Mr Grand.

Whether we call the situation a famine or not, today children in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria are at risk of dying from hunger. As a non-political and neutral humanitarian organisation, we will continue to help people according to their needs and to provide aid without any discrimination of race, religion or ethnic origin. The time to act is now: we cannot fail innocent children.

What is a famine?

Famine is the last stage in a process of severe deterioration in the food security situation. It is declared when certain conditions occur, including:

  • 20 per cent of the population has fewer than 2,100 kilocalories of food a day
  • Acute malnutrition affects more than 30 per cent of children
  • There are two deaths per 10,000 people, or four deaths per 10,000 children every day

The classification system was created by the UN in 2005 to objectively classify urgent need to help allocate resources. It uses information from surveys conducted by the UN and aid agencies like Action Against Hunger who are operating in affected areas. 


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Image: A. Parsons/i-Images for Action Against Hunger