1.4 million African children at imminent risk of starvation

The World Food Programme says 20 million lives are at risk in the next six months.

A two-month-old girl with a severe malnutrition lays on a bed next to her mother at the Aweil State Hospital, in Aweil, Northern Bahr El-Gazhal, South Sudan. Picture: AFP

Conflict and drought in four African countries have left 1.4 million children at imminent risk of starvation, according to the United Nations.

Famine has been formally declared in South Sudan and children in Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

The World Food Programme says 20 million lives are at risk in the next six months.

In northeast Nigeria, the number of children with severe acute malnutrition is expected to reach 450,000 this year, said the charity Unicef.

In Somalia, 185,000 children are already on the brink of famine. This figure is expected to rise to 270,000 in the next few months.

The UN estimates 6.2 million people in Somalia, half the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.

In South Sudan, over 270,000 children are severely malnourished. And in Yemen, where a conflict has been raging for two years, 462,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition – a near 200% increase since 2014.


The humanitarian crisis is largely man-made, according to Unicef.

In Nigeria the problem is most acute in conflict-hit areas in the north. An insurgency by the Islamist group Boko Haram in this region has triggered the displacement of 2.3 million people since May 2013.

In just one year, the number of displaced children increased by more than 60% to 1.3 million. The fighting has disrupted deliveries to markets, leaving people dangerously short of food.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, famine likely occurred in some previously inaccessible areas of Borno state and other remote areas beyond humanitarian reach. The network says that famine is likely ongoing, and will continue.

In parts of South Sudan, famine has been declared in parts of Unity State in the northern central part of the country, where 20,000 children live. A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger.

The area has been mired in civil war since 2013. Economic collapse due to the conflict means people can’t afford to buy food. Prices have risen by up to 800%. Humanitarian organisations are unable to get food into the areas most affected by the conflict.

Jeremy Hopkins, Unicef representative in South Sudan said, “more than one million children are currently estimated to be acutely malnourished across South Sudan; over a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished. If we do not reach these children with urgent aid many of them will die.”

It’s a similar story in Yemen, where war has been raging for two years. Families have lost the economic means with which to buy food.

The UN World Food Programme chief economist Arif Husain told Reuters: "there is food in the markets but people have not been paid, especially the urban population, which is about a third of the total population."

Yemen is officially still classed as an "emergency", but famine could be declared within about three months, he said.


In Somalia, which has suffered decades of conflict, a lack of rainfall has brought about a severe drought. As the map below shows, between October and December 2016 large areas of the Horn of Africa received much less rainfall than in previous years.

The drought has severely limited crop production and, in Somalia in particular, the impact of a poor harvest is expected to be severe.

As famine and starvation take hold, Unicef says it is working with others to provide treatment for a total of 620,000 severely malnourished children in Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia. In Yemen another 320,000 children are in desperate need of Unicef’s help.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network says that in order to save lives, continued efforts to resolve conflict and improve humanitarian access are essential.

In addition, given the scale of anticipated need, donors and implementing partners should allocate available financial and human resources to those areas where the most severe food insecurity is likely.

This article was republished courtesy of World Economic Forum.

Written by Alex Gray, Formative Content.