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When famine stalks the land

By Madeleine Wackernagel

In February, the United Nations declared famine in Unity State, a northern area of South Sudan (WFP, UNICEF, FAO, 20 Feb 2017). About 100,000 people were deemed to be at immediate risk of starvation, with up to a million more classified as being on the brink of famine. The violence and food insecurity over the past four years have created the continent’s largest refugee crisis, with almost one million people seeking a safe haven in Uganda alone (MSF, 18 May 2017).

The UN has since expanded the crises category to encompass northeastern Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen - and the numbers are staggering. Not just in terms of people at risk - 30 million at last count - but funding too: $6.1 billion (ACAPS, 22 May 2017) is needed this year to avert catastrophe.

In Somalia, a severe drought since 2015 is compounding years of poor governance and political conflict, putting three million people at risk of severe food insecurity (IRC, 11 Mar 2017). In Yemen, two years of shelling have rendered public services all but non-existent. Half the country’s medical facilities are closed or damaged and the number of cholera cases has spread with “unprecedented” speed to more than 23,400 cases and 242 deaths in the first three weeks of May (WHO, 19 May 2017).

And while there have been some successes in the battle against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria and the number of IDPs has fallen slightly, there are still 1.8 million people displaced, and insecurity continues to limit farming, trade and access to those in need. In addition, returnees from within and without the country are adding to the strain on struggling camp and host communities (WFP, 15 May 2017).

How did it come to this? The common thread among the four countries is conflict and food shortages, exacerbated by soaring prices as people are unable to plant their land due to conflict, and in some cases are consuming their seeds, while their animals are dying due to drought. Added to that is a vacuum of governance, a lack of humanitarian access and political will.

In a bid to understand all these factors and keep monitoring future developments in a timely and accurate manner, we have created a special page Fighting famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen with all the vital statistics and information easily accessible.

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