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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Fighting famine in a race against time

Nearly 1.4 million children at risk of death in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen

© UNICEF Video



Conflict, drought, displacement and disease are driving a massive humanitarian crisis, with nearly 1.4 million children at imminent risk of death from severe acute malnutrition this year.

They now face the risk of death from starvation, but also from preventable diseases like cholera and measles, which cause severe diarrhoea and dehydration.

Increasingly, the crisis is one not only of food insecurity but also of clean water and sanitation and health care – especially of disease prevention and treatment to protect already vulnerable malnourished children.

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 other areas, such as the Horn of Africa and Lake Chad basin. 

Children cannot wait

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. Children cannot wait for yet another famine declaration – the time for action is now. We currently have teams on the ground in all of the affected countries. While there has been a generous response, urgent funding is still needed to enable our teams to further scale up our life-saving interventions and at the same time lay the groundwork for longer term recovery and development. We need close to US$252 million to provide children with food, water, health, education and protection services until the end of 2017.

With so many lives at stake, UNICEF and partners are calling on all parties to the conflicts in each respective country to provide unconditional and unimpeded humanitarian access. Ultimately an end to conflict in all four countries is needed to improve the lives of children and their families now and in the years to come.

News and stories

Press release: Children paying a disproportionate price as famine looms across Somalia, South Sudan, north-east Nigeria and Yemen (18 July 2017)
Press release: Crisis ‘far from over’ as malnutrition, thirst and disease threaten lives of millions of children in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen (23 June 2017)
Press release: 27 million people lack safe water in countries facing or at risk of famine (29 March 2017)
Press release: Time is running out for children as famine, drought and war threaten millions (28 March 2017)
Blog post: 5 things to know about children and famine

© UNICEF/UN041142/Vittozzi

North-east Nigeria

In conflict affected north-east Nigeria, , the number of children with severe acute malnutrition is expected to reach 450,000 by the end of 2017. The situation is exacerbated by the lack of access to quality healthcare, with over 40 per cent of medical facilities destroyed by violence in the past few years.

UNICEF is working with local authorities to help rehabilitate clinics, to provide supplies and to train local health workers so they can better respond to the emergency and improve services for the local community in the longer-term. 

Snapshot of UNICEF’s response in 2017 to date (31 May 2017):

  • nearly 47,000 children under five treated for severe acute malnutrition
  • 137,000 conflict affected people provided with access to safe water
  • 420,000 conflict affected children accessing education in a protective and safe environment

>> Learn more about UNICEF’s Nigeria appeal.

News and stories from north-east Nigeria
Nigeria situation report
Photo essay: Unwitting victims
Press release: 5.6 million children at risk of waterborne diseases as rainy season hits communities affected by Lake Chad crisis (23 June 2017)
Article: The dual threat of Boko Haram and malnutrition in north-east Nigeria

© UNICEF/UN056039/Holt


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 increasing, 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 diarrhoea and dehydration. More than 51,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea have been reported this year (up to mid-June 2017). This is five times more compared to the same timeframe in 2016.

UNICEF and partners have secured a pipeline of life-saving supplies of ready-to-use-therapeutic food that can save thousands 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.

Snapshot of UNICEF’s response in 2017 to date (30 June 2017):

  • nearly 1.6 million people provided with access to safe water
  • nearly 99,000 children under five treated for severe acute malnutrition
  • over 672,000 women and children provided with emergency lifesaving health services
  • over 104,000 children accessing safe and protected environments for learning

>> Learn more about UNICEF’s Somalia appeal.

News and stories from Somalia
Somalia situation report
Article: UNICEF Ethiopia and Somalia join forces to reach severely malnourished children with life-saving treatment
Press release: Projected number of severely malnourished Somali children up 50 percent (2 May 2017)
Press release: In drought-hit Somalia, children also face potentially deadly measles threat (25 April 2017)
Press release: As famine looms, malnutrition and disease rise sharply among children in Somalia (30 March 2017)

© UNICEF/UN053447/Gonzalez Farran

South Sudan

In South Sudan, a country reeling from conflict, poverty and insecurity, nearly 270,000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition. The famine in two counties of South Sudan that was declared in February 2017 was subsequently reversed in mid-June. This highlights how when UNICEF and partners have access and resources, a swift and robust response makes a difference and can save thousands of lives.

Despite this, more areas are on the verge of famine and the total number of food insecure people is expected to rise from 4.9 million to 5.5 million.

WFP and UNICEF are conducting rapid emergency missions to the worst affected areas delivering lifesaving supplies and services. A joint UN agency two year programme focusing on Aweil, Northern Bar el Ghazal, is providing a holistic response to food insecurity, malnutrition and economic issues with the goal of setting the precedent for recovery and stabilization.

Snapshot of UNICEF’s response in 2017 to date (30 June 2017):

  • nearly 80,000 children aged 6 to 59 months treated for severe acute malnutrition
  • over 600,000 people provided with access to safe water
  • over 1.5 million children aged 6-months to 15 years vaccinated against measles

>> Learn more about UNICEF’s South Sudan appeal.

News and stories from South Sudan
South Sudan situation report
Photo essay: Displaced in South Sudan
Article: Fighting famine in Aweil, South Sudan, as acute malnutrition rates continue to rise
Press release: South Sudan famine ebbs, but situation still desperate as hunger spreads (21 June 2017)
Press release: UNICEF and partners assist more than 145,000 people in famine-hit areas of South Sudan (28 March 2017)

© UNICEF/UN044523/Fuad


In Yemen, where conflict has been raging for the past two years, the cholera outbreak and devastating number of cases of acute watery diarrhoea is an even greater threat to malnourished children.

More than 326,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea have been recorded to date (July 2017), many of which are suspected to be cholera. This is on top of an already 1.8 million children who are acutely malnourished, and 462,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Snapshot of UNICEF’s response in 2017 to date (May 2017):

  •  nearly 1.5 million people provided improved access to safe water and sanitation
  • 16,000 community mobilisers educating people about how to reduce the risks of cholera
  • 68,000 children aged 6-59 months treated for severe acute malnutrition
  • 58,000 pregnant and lactating women received primary health care services
  • 99,000 children accessed education in safe temporary learning spaces

>> Learn more about UNICEF’s Yemen appeal.

News and stories from Yemen
Yemen situation report
Article: Fathya and the army of volunteers combating cholera in Yemen
Press release: UNICEF airlifts lifesaving supplies to Yemen to combat cholera as cases surpass 200,000 (28 June 2017)
Article: Falling through the cracks: Yemen’s forgotten children in a cholera crisis
Press release: Children account for half of all suspected cholera cases in Yemen (13 June 2017)



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