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Threat of four famines in 2017 requires immediate humanitarian and political action

Photo: Kieran Doherty/ Oxfam

The world stands on the brink of an unprecedented four famines in 2017 due to a catastrophic failure of the global community to uphold its obligations to the world’s most vulnerable people. 

Famine was declared this week in parts of South Sudan. In northern Nigeria it is likely that some 400,000 people living in areas cut off from aid are already suffering famine. Both Yemen and Somalia stand on the brink.

The primary driver of these crises is conflict, though in Somalia it is drought. Global leaders have failed to adequately support efforts to resolve these conflicts and, in Yemen, are actually fueling the conflict through arms sales. These countries now have a moral obligation to meet the $4.4 billion needed for a humanitarian response at the required scale. They need to find political answers to the root causes that have triggered countries to collapse into such catastrophic levels of suffering. 

“Famine does not arrive suddenly or unexpectedly,” said Oxfam’s Humanitarian Director Nigel Timmins. “It comes after months of procrastination and ignored warnings. It is a slow agonizing process, driven by callous national politics and international indifference.”

“Half-hearted responses to UN appeals have short-changed the aid effort to save people’s lives. This must not continue. Governments need to act now to fully fund the aid effort.”

As a crisis unfolds, malnutrition and mortality rates rise exponentially, rather than steadily.  After a certain tipping point, further rapid deterioration becomes likely. Money and assistance are needed now before people become dangerously hungry and have exhausted the last of their efforts to feed their families. 

What do words like “food insecurity” and “famine” actually mean? This infographic explains. when it comes to hunger, understanding is action.

Responding to severe malnutrition requires significant humanitarian infrastructure, such as feeding and health centers.  People at the sharp end of these crises cannot wait. 

In Somalia, 2.9 million people face acute food security ‘crisis’ and ‘emergency’ levels. This could tip into famine if the April-June rains fail, their ability to buy food declines and people do not receive humanitarian support. 

In Nigeria, over 5 million people are in food crisis, and this is projected to reach 5.7 million by June 2017. There is a strong likelihood that at least 400,000 people could already be experiencing famine-like conditions and that this could rise to up to 800,000 over the course of 2017 if humanitarian assistance cannot be delivered.

In South Sudan, 100,000 people are facing starvation now and a further 1 million people are classified as being on the brink of famine in Unity State. 

In Yemen, over 7 million people are just one step away from famine, and an extra 10 million people are severely hungry. This is the largest hunger emergency in the world. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation is reporting that wheat stocks for the country will run out in April.   

 Oxfam is calling for immediate humanitarian and political action including: 

  • More food and life-saving support. 
  • Opening the areas that people can move safely to reach aid—and for humanitarian agencies to reach them in turn—including suspending all military operations that block this kind of access and safe movement. 
  • Protection of civilians in all military action. 
  • Committing to respond earlier to warning signs of future crises before they escalate. 
  • Building people’s ability to cope better with future crises. Even without conflict, these countries will remain vulnerable to future food crisis. 

Oxfam is already helping over a million people in Yemen, more than 600,000 in South Sudan, over 200,000 in Nigeria and an assessment mission has just returned from northern Somalia where it plans to begin a response to the drought. 

"The famine already gripping parts of South Sudan will spread across the country if more is not done. Famine may be imminent in Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria but it is not yet inevitable,” said Timmins.” “If we act now with a massive injection of aid, backed with diplomatic clout and driven by the imperative to save lives, we can prevent a catastrophic loss of life. Without an urgent influx of cash, the humanitarian system will not be able to cope and many more people will die.” 

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