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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Famine crisis – time is running out

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

© UNICEF Video


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 diarrhoea and dehydration.

And 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 neighbouring 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.

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 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.

We currently have 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 US$255 million to provide children with food, water, health, education and protection services for just the next few months.


News and stories
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 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 FEWS Net, 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.

Snapshot of UNICEF’s planned response in 2017:

  • treat more than 220,000 children under 5 suffering from severe acute malnutrition
  • provide counselling to over 510,000 caregivers on how to feed infants and young children
  • reach 3.9 million people with emergency primary healthcare services
  • provide more than 1 million people with access to safe water

>> Learn more about UNICEF’s Nigeria appeal.

News and stories from north-east Nigeria
Nigeria situation report
Article: The dual threat of Boko Haram and malnutrition in north-east Nigeria
Photo essay: Life hanging by a thread

© 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 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 diarrhoea 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.

Snapshot of UNICEF’s planned response in 2017:

  • screening 1.7 million children under 5 for malnutrition
  • treating up to 277,000 children for severe acute malnutrition
  • providing 1.5 million people with access to 7.5 litres of water per day for 90 days (until the next rains in April).

>> Learn more about UNICEF’s Somalia appeal.

News and stories from Somalia
Somalia situation report
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)
Article: Little Munasar suffers as his family move to escape the drought
Article: Drought forces parents to choose which children to feed as they flee their village

© UNICEF/UN053447/Gonzalez Farran

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 1 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.

Snapshot of UNICEF’s planned response in 2017:

  • treat more than 200,000 children under 5 for severe acute malnutrition
  • provide counselling for nearly 600,000 pregnant or lactating women on how to feed infants and young children
  • provide 800,000 people with access to safe water

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

News and stories from South Sudan
South Sudan situation report
Press release: UNICEF and partners assist more than 145,000 people in famine-hit areas of South Sudan (28 March 2017)
Photo essay: A nation in crisis
Article: Nyankena’s story: Fighting malnutrition and hoping for a peaceful future in South Sudan
Press release: Famine hits parts of South Sudan (20 February 2017)

© UNICEF/UN044523/Fuad


In Yemen, where conflict has been raging for the past two years, severe food insecurity threatens more than 17 million people – a 21 per cent 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 centre 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.

Snapshot of UNICEF’s planned response in 2017:

  • provide micronutrient supplements to 4.5 million children
  • offer counselling to 1.2 million mothers and caregivers on how to feed infants and young children
  • provide 4 million people with access to safe water supply

>> Learn more about UNICEF’s Yemen appeal.

News and stories from Yemen
Yemen situation report
Press release: Race against time to save millions of lives in Yemen (15 April 2017)
Article: Amid conflict and food insecurity in Yemen, a young girl fights for her life
Press release: Families in Yemen turning to extreme survival measures as war hits two-year mark (27 March 2017)
Article: In Yemen, fighting to survive in a country plagued by malnutrition



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