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 in February, 2017 – the first time anywhere in the world since 2011.  As of June 21, 2017,  thanks to large-scale, intensive,  coordinated humanitarian efforts, famine is no longer occurring in the two affected counties in South Sudan. But other parts of the nation have deteriorated into the most severe hunger emergency South Sudan has ever experienced.  And per the United Nations repeated warnings and calls for massive funding to meet overwhelming needs, 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 2016, throughout Nigeria, we reached a total of 6,372,449 people.

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

  • 47,000 people are experiencing famine conditions in Leer, Mayendit, Yirol East, Yirol West, Canal/ Pigi, Panyikang, and Greater Baggari in South Sudan (although humanitarian efforts have reduced this number from 100,000 since February 2017)

  • 6.1 million people are in urgent need of food assistance—the greatest number of  people suffering from acute food shortages and hunger ever recorded in South Sudan.

  • 1.7 million people are one step away from famine, an increase of almost 1 million people since February 2017

  • 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, with 100,000 people facing catastrophic hunger and imminent risk of death in Unity State. As of June 21, 2017, famine is no longer occurring in Unity State, thanks to major, intensive humanitarian interventions. However, 47,000 people across Leer, Mayendit, Yirol East, Yirol West, Canal/ Pigi, Panyikang, and Greater Baggari are experiencing famine conditions, according to the latest IPC analysis.

An estimated 1.7 million people in other parts of South Sudan are one step away from 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. 


Our Response

Action Against Hunger is on the ground in four states of South Sudan: Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Warrap, Jonglei, and Central Equatoria. In 2016 alone, we reached 313,250 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  Puntland and in the capital of Mogadishu as well as in South Central Somalia, specifically the regions of Bakool, Nugaal, Benadir and Lower Shabelle. In 2017, we helped 713,033 people across Somalia. 

Our top priorities for our emergency response to the crippling 2017 drought are to provide lifesaving treatment for severely malnourished children and to protect the health of vulnerable pregnant women and nursing mothers. As of December 2017, we are:

  • Targeting 189,751 children under five, as well as pregnant women and nursing mothers, with emergency health screening and lifesaving treatment for severe malnutrition.
  • Delivering emergency food assistance (through monthly cash transfers) to 112,540 people devastated by drought and conflict
  • Supporting communities with critical water, sanitation, and hygiene programs, reaching 204,691 people

We aim to scale up our response to reach more areas and meet the urgent needs of vulnerable populations closer to their homes. 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.  

In 2017, our teams reached a total of 648,980 people across Yemen. In the past year, we have provided health and nutrition services, helped improve access to food and income, and delivered essential water and sanitation services. 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 7,958 staff in nearly 50 countries, our programs reach 20.2 million people.

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

Action Against Hunger is the world’s hunger specialist and leader in a global movement that aims to end life-threatening hunger for good within our lifetimes. For more than 40 years, the humanitarian and development organization has been on the front lines, treating and preventing hunger across nearly 50 countries. It served more than 17 million people in 2019 alone.