Famine is looming in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and additional regions of South Sudan, where it was already declared in some areas yesterday, the United Nations children’s agency has warned.
Aid agencies have been working to raise the alarm about the severity of food insecurity in a number of African nations for weeks, with drought, conflict and soaring prices combining to drive crises across the continent.
Yesterday, a famine was declared in areas of South Sudan’s conflict-hit Unity State, in the north of the country – the world’s first such declaration since 2011.
Famine is not a word used lightly by the aid community. UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake stressed that “time is running out” for more than a million children at risk of imminent death from malnutrition in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
“We can still save many lives,” he stressed. “The severe malnutrition and looming famine are largely man-made. Our common humanity demands faster action. We must not repeat the tragedy of the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa.”
In the north east of Nigeria, where a Boko Haram insurgency has forced many from their homes, decimated rural livelihoods and left many cut off from aid, nearly half a million children are expected to suffer from severe malnutrition this year.
An early warning system said last year that famine was likely to occur in some of the previously inaccessible areas of the country’s Borno state – while it is likely to be ongoing, and set to continue, in other areas that remain cut off.
In Somalia, drought is putting a population only just recovering from decades of conflict at risk too. Almost half of the country, or 6.2 million people, are in need.
Nearly another half a million children are at risk in Yemen, a country still gripped by intense fighting. In the past two years, the number of children suffering from severe malnutrition in what was already the region’s poorest country has increased by almost 200%.
Aid agencies are calling for donors to scale up their response to one of the biggest food insecurity crises in Africa’s recent history, as well as to ensure safe access for humanitarian workers in conflict-affected countries and regions.
In response to the declaration of famine in parts of South Sudan yesterday, the European Commission announced an emergency aid package worth €82m. The UN has also said it will deliver $18.5m to alleviate a drought in Ethiopia.
Christos Stylianides, EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, also stressed that urgent action is needed and that humanitarian organisations need to be able to help those in need unhindered.
However he added: “Ultimately it is only by laying down arms that the country can be rebuilt and that the hopes that came with independence can be fulfilled.”