Famine: Nearly 1.4 million Children at Risk of Death in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen

A girl carries a bundle of grass back home in the late afternoon in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilian site (CoP), near Bentiu, South Sudan, February 12, 2017.

Famine is looming in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, and beyond, as nearly 1.4 million children are at imminent risk of death from severe acute malnutrition this year.

Some 22 million children are hungry, sick, displaced, and out of school due to war, conflict and drought. They now face the risk of death from starvation, but also from preventable diseases like cholera and measles, which cause severe diarrhea and dehydration.

UNICEF says that the risk of famine is not limited to these four countries. As violence, hunger, and thirst force people to move within and across borders, malnutrition rates will continue to soar in neighboring countries as well.

This crisis is largely human-made. Scorched earth tactics by conflicting parties are destroying crops and critical infrastructure like health facilities. Heavy fighting is forcing farmers to abandon their fields, while blocking humanitarian access to people in desperate need of food aid and clean water.

As families flee their homes, children have no access to health and nutrition services, clean water, or adequate sanitation and hygiene – putting them at greater risk of malnutrition. Diseases are spreading rapidly in crowded sites for displaced people. And drought is further exacerbating food crises in parts of Africa, particularly Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

“Six years ago, at least 100,000 children died of a famine in the Horn of Africa because the world did not act soon enough,” UNICEFsays. “Children cannot wait for yet another famine declaration – the time for action is now. We must reverse famine where it exists, and prevent famine where it looms.

UNICEF calls on all parties to these ongoing conflicts to stop human rights violations and allow unconditional humanitarian access to all people in need.”

The relief agency notes that it currently has teams on the ground in all of the affected countries. Urgent funding is needed to enable our teams to scale up life-saving interventions. “We need close to $255 million to provide children with food, water, health, education and protection services for just the next few months,” UNICEF says.

North-east Nigeria
In north-east Nigeria’s conflict-affected states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobi, the number of children with severe acute malnutrition is expected to reach 450,000 by the end of the year. According to FEWSNet, the famine early warning system that monitors food insecurity, famine likely occurred last year in previously inaccessible areas of Borno state, and it is likely ongoing in other areas that remain beyond humanitarian reach.

In January and February of this year alone, UNICEF treated nearly 14,000 children for severe acute malnutrition in Borno and Yobe states.

In Somalia, drought is threatening an already fragile population battered by decades of conflict. Almost half the population, or 6.2 million people, are facing acute food insecurity and are in need of humanitarian assistance.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, malnutrition is expected to increase, and more than 270,000 children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition if the famine is not averted.

Limited access to clean water contributes directly to malnutrition, as children are at risk of diseases like cholera and measles that induce severe diarrhea and dehydration. By April 2017, the number of people in need of WASH assistance will likely rise to 4.5 million.

UNICEF and partners have secured the pipeline of life-saving supplies through April, and are implementing a 45-day scale-up plan to prevent mass loss of lives. Teams are currently responding in the hardest hit areas, monitoring displacements, cross-border movements, and sudden, life-threatening spikes in malnutrition and disease numbers.

South Sudan
In South Sudan, a country reeling from conflict, poverty and insecurity, nearly 300,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Famine has recently been declared in parts of Unity State in the northern central part of the country, and an additional one million people are on the edge of famine across the country.

If nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis, the total number of food insecure people is expected to rise from 4.9 million to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July.

Since the declaration of famine, WFP and UNICEF have conducted eight emergency missions to affected areas in Unity State, delivering lifesaving supplies and services. As of March 2017, the joint missions – bringing assistance via plane and helicopter – have reached more than 133,000 people nationwide, including over 33,000 children under 5.

In Yemen, where conflict has been raging for the past two years, severe food insecurity threatens more than 17 million people – a 21 percent increase since June 2016.

2.2 million children are acutely malnourished, and 462,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Without additional support, the governorates of Taiz and Al Hudaydah risk slipping into famine. These governorates – which are home to almost a quarter of Yemen’s population – were once the center of food production, but have seen intense violence since the current crisis escalated. They now have the highest rates of acute malnutrition in the country.

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