The Future is Equal

Four need-to-knows about the four famines

Famine has been declared in parts of South Sudan. Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria are only a step away from the same fate. 20 million people are at risk of starvation and 50 million are severely hungry.

This is the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II. If it’s left unresolved, malnutrition and death will dramatically increase.

Nyadak, and her daughter (pictured), moved to an island near Nyal to escape the violence gripping many parts of South Sudan. Nyadak is sick, so her daughter takes care of her. “My daily routine is to ensure I make food for her, take her to the toilet since she has no power to do so. The food we get here comes from Kawaini (white people – referring to Oxfam). I just want to thank them for doing that… Since my mother got sick the thought of ever going to school is next to impossible, especially now. If I get the chance to go to school, I would like to be a doctor so that I can treat people like my mother who are suffering from diseases.” Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam.

Alongside our partners, Oxfam is currently responding to all four crises providing access to crucial aid – including clean water, toilets, showers and cash for food – and we’re working to make sure this is available for everyone.

  • In South Sudan we’ve helped over 600,000 people since 2016
  • In Nigeria we’re reached 300,000 people since mid-2014
  • In Yemen we’ve helped over 1 million people since mid-2015
  • In Somalia we’re launching a humanitarian response, where we’ve already established development programmes

Here are four need-to-knows about famine, and the four that are affecting millions today.

1) Once a famine is declared, people are already dying.

The IPC is a five-level scale classifying how severe food insecurity in an area is. Famine is Phase 5. It’s declared when a substantial number of people have died from hunger, either on its own or with associated disease. Across four countries, 20 million people are, or are very close to, experiencing this.

Famine means:

  • 20% of households in an area are facing extreme food shortages
  • 30% of the population is facing extreme malnourishment
  • There are two or more deaths in a day per 10,000 people due to food shortage

Famine is as much about lack of access to clean water and poor hygiene practises as it is about a lack of access to food.

  • South Sudan: 4.9 million people currently in IPC Phases 3-5 (100,000 already in famine)
  • Yemen: 6.8 million people in IPC Phase 4
  • Somalia: nearly 3 million people in IPC Phases 3-4
  • Nigeria: at least 4.4 million people in IPC Phases 3-5

2) Ongoing conflict is the main catalyst.

Along with weak governance and poor access, continued conflict is driving the situation in all four affected countries. A brutal civil war in South Sudan has put millions at risk. Women, men and children that fled their homes in search of safety are now faced with a new issue – hunger. In Nigeria, conflict between the government and Boko Haram continues and is the main cause of wide-spread, severe hunger in the region. Two years of war in Yemen, and conflict paired with a massive drought in Somalia, are resulting in poor food security for the two nations and is pushing them dangerously close to famine.

3) Oxfam, and other organisations, are providing life-saving aid and resources.

In South Sudan Oxfam is providing crucial access to food and aid through free canoe transport for locals living in swampy areas or on islands. We have trained locals to operate the canoes, which help them earn money to support their families. We are supporting local partner organisations in distributing emergency food and are continuing to provide clean water and sanitation services to help stop the spread of diseases like cholera and diarrhoea, which can lead to malnutrition and prove fatal. It is essential that Oxfam positions aid supplies before the rainy season begins in April/May and the situation worsens.

In Nigeria we have delivered food, cash and vouchers for local markets, as well as installed tap stands, showers and toilets to help prevent the spread of disease. Oxfam hopes to help up to 500,000 people here in 2017.

In Somalia we are launching a programme to provide people with the basic essentials – clean water, sanitation facilities and cash assistance so people can buy food. This work is focused on preventing water-borne diseases that are a real risk in this kind of crisis.

In Yemen three of the four governorates are at risk of famine. Oxfam is providing people with cash to allow them to buy food and livestock so they can eat and, where possible, generate more income. We’re continuing to provide clean water and hygiene kits to help manage the spread of diseases.

Gabrial Puol Thiel, an employed boat operator in South Sudan as part of Oxfam’s free canoe scheme, has been with Oxfam for the past two years and is motivated by the fact he is helping people in crisis. “I feel some sense of achievement when I carry a sick person to the hospital in the mainland and they get treated, or when I get some food to an elderly person who could have died of hunger.” Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam.

4) We can avert a famine with your help.

If these crises go unresolved, malnutrition and death could reach even more catastrophic levels. But we can still stop the worse from happening and save lives. Where we have access, we are saving lives, but we need better access to all people in need, many of whom who are trapped by conflict.

The international community must act now – both to respond to needs in famine-affected areas and to hold back the hunger in areas at risk.

“To be clear, we can avert a famine,” said UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien. “We’re ready despite incredible risk and danger… but we need those huge funds now.”