Urgent life-saving action is needed now to prevent a humanitarian hunger crisis that could kill tens of thousands of children
Famine has no place in the 21st century. It is entirely preventable
Today more than 41 million people are one step away from starvation. A deadly mix of conflict, climate change and the economic fallout of COVID-19 are driving ever worsening hunger for millions of children and their families. In some hunger hotspots, children are literally living under famine conditions. Girls and boys are not just starving but are being starved to death.
The last time the world faced a catastrophe of this scale – the 2011 Somalia famine – 260,000 people died. Half of them were children. The world said never again. But now, the hunger crisis has gone global.
If we stand by and do nothing, children will not just starve but they will also be forced to make terrible survival choices that will put them in harm’s way and leave lasting consequences. Forced marriage, begging, migration, survival sex are just some of the things children will be forced into to try to stay alive.
More than 40 nations around the world are facing a hunger emergency or worse. World Vision staff are on the ground in most of them, bringing food assistance, protecting children and supporting the most vulnerable, including refugees. We are a global food leader and partner with the Nobel Peace prize-winning World Food Programme (WFP), governments and communities to save lives. But, time is running out and much more needs to be done to prevent mass hunger and starvation.
Children facing hunger around the world
Help children and their families survive and overcome hunger.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many people are at risk of starvation around the world?
More than 41 million people are on the edge of starvation in at least 40 countries around the world. We have not seen a hunger crisis like this in modern times with countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia all affected. In Yemen, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Madagascar, in total, at least half a million people are living under famine-like conditions. Elsewhere millions are on the cusp of starvation.
What will happen if people do not get food?
There is a lesson for us in the last major famine of 2011 when 260,000 people died in Somalia – half of those were children under five. We also know that that famine declaration came too late, with tens of thousands of people dying before the declaration was even made. If we do not respond immediately and urgently tens of thousands of people will die and a huge percentage of those will be children. We must act now, act quickly and act at scale to prevent mass starvation.
Why is the hunger crisis so bad?
We are seeing a toxic trio of conflict, COVID-19 and the economic impact of COVID-19 together fueling this crisis. Conflicts in places like Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan displace thousands, prevent food getting though and stop farming and harvesting; climate change is creating damaging droughts and sudden floods that ruin crops; and COVID-19 has brought lockdowns that have destroyed livelihoods and daily incomes around the world. Tens of millions of people are now eating less nutritious food, less often and often not at all.
How is the hunger crisis going to impact children?
If we don’t act now with a global emergency food response we could see tens of thousands of children die and many millions left with long-term health impacts. Children will starve to death without urgent food aid. We also know that poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a girl or boy’s life leads to poor brain development, permanent impaired mental functioning and lower IQs. Under-fives are also especially at risk from killer illnesses such as malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia due to their weakened immune systems. Half of the 260,000 people who died in the 2011 Somalia famine were children, aged under 5.
I’ve heard hunger creates other problems too. What are they?
Hungry families do desperate things to survive and this has massive implications for children. First of all hungry families exhaust the minimal savings they may have, and then start to sell off whatever they have to pay for what little – and expensive – food may remain. This means selling off any animals that might still be alive, farm implements, or even their land. If they survive the crisis they are then mired in deeper poverty. Families may also sell off their daughters into early marriage. This means one less mouth to feed and a little income to feed the rest of the family. But girls who end up in this situation suffer abuse, exploitation and are pulled out of school permanently. Their lives are ruined. Other children may be forced to beg, to work in dangerous jobs, or even to join insurgent groups that offer food in return for taking up arms.
In the worst situations whole families and villages may be forced to abandon their homes to trek to cities or displacement camps to find food. The collective impact of these desperate attempts to survive can mark children with long-lasting physical and emotional scars.
I have heard the terms IPC used in relation to hunger. What does it mean?
The humanitarian community analyses, compares and categorises food and hunger situations around the world so that it can determine where assistance is most needed, when, and for how many people. It does this using rigorous tools and processes and after gathering field evidence to work out current and projected food security situations in individual contexts. Together this is known as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) system. Contexts that are assessed fall into one of five food security phases. These are technical terms but simply explained, these are:
1. Minimal: Households can meet their essential food and non-food needs
2. Stressed: Households have minimally adequate food consumption but are unable to afford some essential non-food expenditures without engaging in stress-coping strategies.
3. Crisis: Households either have food consumption gaps that are reflected by high or above-usual acute malnutrition OR are marginally able to meet minimum food needs but only by depleting essential livelihood assets or through crisis-coping strategies.
4. Emergency: Households either have large food consumption gaps which are reflected in very high acute malnutrition and excess mortality OR are able to mitigate large food consumption gaps but only by employing emergency livelihood strategies and asset liquidation.
5. Famine/Catastrophe: Households have an extreme lack of food and/or other basic needs even after full employment of coping strategies. Starvation, death, destitution, and extremely critical acute malnutrition levels are evident. A Catastrophe is when this definition applies at a household rather than an area level.
What exactly is a famine?
There is a technical assessment and process for determining a famine and any announcement of a famine is only made with extreme caution. Naturally governments are very sensitive about a famine being declared.
For a famine to be declared, there must be evidence of these three things:
- At least two people (or four children) a day dying for every 10,000 population
- At least 30% of the population is acutely malnourished
- At least 20% of the population face an extreme lack of food
How is a famine declared?
Strict criteria must be met to declare the “rare and extreme” case of famine, which the IPC describes as the “absolute inaccessibility of food to an entire population or sub-group of a population, potentially causing death in the short term.”
A famine declaration must be approved by the IPC’s Famine Review Committee, made up of leading food security experts. In determining food security phases, the IPC takes into account a wide range of factors, such as weather patterns, economy, access, security, and political stability.
*(To assess this, the weight and height of children aged 6-59 months is measured and compared to a reference population with no nutrition shortages. Children who weigh less than 80% of the median weight of children with the same height in the reference population, and/or a suffering from Oedema, are classified as suffering Global Acute Malnutrition.)
When disasters happen, whether natural or manmade, we want children to have access to food, clean water, and shelter. Even in some of the world’s most hostile environments, we have hope for recovery.