Urgent UN Warning: 20 Million Threatened by Famine

Photo: Andrew Parsons/i-Images for Action Against Hunger, South Sudan
Photo: Andrew Parsons/i-Images for Action Against Hunger, South Sudan

The United Nations warned on Friday, March 10th that 20 million people face the threat of famine in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, and that "the world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis [in which the UN has intervened] since the UN was founded in 1945." 

Famine was officially declared in parts of South Sudan – the first time anywhere in the world since 2011. But South Sudan is not the only country facing a catastrophe.  Communities in Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen are also facing the threat of famine.

What is famine?

Famine is a rare and specific technical classification of food insecurity, mortality, and malnutrition among populations. It is declared when the following criteria are met, among others:

  • 1 in 5 households face an extreme food shortage
  • More than 30% of the population is malnourished
  • At least 2 in every 10,000 people die per day
  • 4 in every 10,000 children under 5 die per day.

Famine was last declared in Somalia in July 2011, after an estimated 250,000 people died.


In Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, people are suffering and the humanitarian needs are immense.  Populations face severe drought, massive food shortages, conflict,  and extreme poverty.  The situation in all four countries is projected to worsen over the next six months unless a major international response is mobilized immediately.

Action Against Hunger's emergency teams are on the ground, racing against time to prevent famine and save lives. We are providing lifesaving treatment to severely malnourished children and delivering emergency food and clean water to families in dire need. 

Together, with your generous support, we can take urgent action, today, to stop children from sliding even deeper into tragedy. Now is the time to act to prevent famine and save children's lives. 

Northeast Nigeria

 Guy Calaf for Action Against Hunger, Monguno, Borno State, Nigeria.

Key Facts

  • An estimated 58,500 people in Nigeria's Borno State are experiencing famine conditions and an estimated 4.4 million people in Borno State are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

  • An estimated 450,000 children across northeast Nigeria are suffering from severe malnutrition, including 244,000 severely malnourished children in Borno State alone.

  • 14.8 million people have been affected by the humanitarian emergency.

Crisis Overview

In parts of northeast Nigeria, intense conflict with militant group Boko Haram has left people totally cut off from humanitarian assistance for almost two years. An estimated  244,000 children in Borno are suffering from acute malnutrition and according to a recent report, the lives of 59,500 people in parts of Borno State are in jeopardy from “catastrophic” levels of food insecurity.

Action Against Hunger launched new emergency programs in Monguno in Borno State, and we have scaled up existing programs in Maiduguri in Borno. Despite extremely challenging conditions, our teams are saving children’s lives and providing safety nets for displaced families. 

Learn more about the crisis in Nigeria >>

Our Response

From 2014 to 2015, we doubled the volume of our operations in response to the crisis, meeting the humanitarian needs of 2.1 million people with health and nutrition programs; clean water and sanitation to reduce malnutrition and disease; emergency cash transfers to help displaced people purchase food or meet other urgent needs; and longer-term food security initiatives. In 2016, we have scaled up our programs in Nigeria even further, yet again doubling the volume of our operations to meet rising needs, despite an extremely challenging environment.

In August 2016, we launched a new emergency program in the newly liberated area of Monguno in north Borno, where we are currently assisting displaced people with food, water and sanitation, health services, and emergency nutrition. Thanks to our generous supporters, Action Against Hunger also mobilized a new response in a previously inaccessible area of north Borno called Kukawa, where we have begun distributing supplementary food to pregnant women and nursing mothers, and screening and treating children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. 

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South Sudan

 Andrew Parsons/i-Images for Action Against Hunger, South Sudan

Key Facts

  • 100,000 people are experiencing famine and face imminent risk of death from starvation. 

  • 4.9 million people—42 percent of the country’s population—are in urgent need of food assistance.

  • 270,000 children are severely malnourished.

Crisis Overview

In December 2013, civil war broke out in South Sudan. Although a peace agreement was brokered in 2015, violence erupted again in April of the same year. Much of the population was displaced, and humanitarian actors could not gain access to areas worst affected by fighting. Since then, political upheaval and ongoing conflict—combined with widespread insecurity, inflation, food deficits, and an unstable economy—have contributed to a spiraling humanitarian emergency. 

Famine was officially declared in parts of South Sudan in late February: 100,000 people face catastrophic hunger and imminent risk of death in Unity State. An estimated 1 million people in other parts of South Sudan are on the brink of famine. Today, South Sudan has arrived at a deadly tipping point. Humanitarian actors are overstretched in the face of overwhelming needs, insufficient funding, and a volatile environment. This is the first time famine has been declared anywhere in the world since 2011, when 260,000 people died in Somalia. 

Learn more about the famine in South Sudan >>

Our Response

Action Against Hunger is on the ground in four states of South Sudan: Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Warrap, Jonglei, and Central Equatoria. Last year alone, we reached more than 360,000 people with emergency food and nutrition programs, as well as livelihoods and water and sanitation interventions.

Our emergency teams are responding on the frontlines of the widespread food crisis supporting emergency assessments, and delivering lifesaving humanitarian action where it is most needed. We are racing against time to stop the famine from engulfing other areas and taking the lives of more children.

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 Agence Vu for Action Against Hunger, Somalia

Key Facts

  • 3 million people, one quarter of Somalia’s population, are experiencing acute food shortages at crisis or emergency levels.

  • 363,000 children are malnourished.

  • 6.2 million people urgently need humanitarian assistance.

Crisis Overview

Somalia is in a state of pre-famine. The country is experiencing both severe drought and violent conflict from armed groups, both of which are driving a widespread, dangerous food crisis. In 2011, when famine was officially declared under similar conditions, the world was too slow to respond and an estimated 250,000 people died.

Rains have failed season after season, and crops have died, as well as livestock. Communities dependent on farming and livestock have been left with no food and no income. Rising prices for food and other essentials continue to impoverish families and jeopardize their ability to meet their daily survival needs.

Learn more about the Somalia crisis >> 

Our Response

Action Against Hunger has been present in Somalia since 1992 and our teams are working in 5 offices across the country. Last year we helped over 177,000 people. 

Our top priority is to provide lifesaving treatment for severely malnourished children and to protect the health of vulnerable pregnant women and nursing mothers. In the weeks ahead, we aim to reach 30,000 people with emergency screening and treatment for severe malnutrition.

We aim to scale up our response to reach more areas and meet the urgent needs of vulnerable populations closer to their homes. We are ready to assist more than 200,000 people in the coming weeks. In some areas within Somalia, Action Against Hunger is the only organization providing assistance to communities.

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 Florian Seriex for Action Against Hunger, Yemen

Key Facts

  • 14.1 million people are at risk of famine.

  • 462,000 children are severely malnourished.

  • 18.8 million people (80 percent of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Crisis Overview

Yemen is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.  A conflict between Al Houthi forces and government forces and an international coalition started in March 2015. Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and the last 19 months of conflict have displaced millions and caused a severe, widespread hunger crisis.

Learn more about the food crisis in Yemen >>

Our Response

Despite access and security challenges, Action Against Hunger has been present in Yemen since 2012, treating malnourished children and improving families’ access to food.

Our 170-strong team is currently providing humanitarian assistance in the areas of Abyan, Hajjah, Hodeidah and Lahij.  Our emergency programs are providing lifesaving treatment to severely malnourished children, improving families' access to food, and delivering vital clean water and sanitation to communities.  

Our teams have provided health and nutrition services to 86,636 people, helped 106,445 people improve their access to food and income, and delivered essential water and sanitation services to 76,945 people. Yemen is one of the most forgotten humanitarian crises worldwide. Children and their families need urgent help.

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Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger is a global humanitarian organization that takes decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger. We save the lives of malnourished children. We ensure families can access clean water, food, training, and health care. We enable entire communities to be free from hunger. With more than 6,500 staff in over 45 countries, our programs reach 14.9 million people.

We have the power to stop this situation from worsening. Please help in any way that you can.