Not One Famine, but Four

20 million lives at risk in South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen

A woman waits to be registered prior to a UN food distribution in South Sudan, February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

A woman waits to be registered prior to a UN food distribution in South Sudan, February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

The world’s youngest country, South Sudan, is officially in a state of famine, the result of a toxic stew of political conflict, dysfunctional markets, high inflation, and devastated harvests.  Five million people, 40 percent of the population, are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, and tens of thousands have fled to neighboring countries, such as Uganda. Chronic malnutrition has also made people more vulnerable to disease, including an ongoing cholera outbreak.

According to the United Nations, at least three more countries are also on the brink of famine– Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen. Together, this represents the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since the UN was founded.

“Famine” is a very precise term for extreme food insecurity. The UN uses the “Integrated Food Security Phase Classification” (IPC), where famine is the highest level (IPC phase five). It means that even with humanitarian assistance, at least one in five households in an area has an extreme lack of food and other basic needs, and “starvation, death, and destitution are evident.”

Because the public hasn’t yet rallied to respond, this crisis is being called Africa’s “quiet famine.” Some 20 million people in these four nations currently do not have enough food or water to survive, and aid agencies are working frantically round-the-clock both to raise the alarm and to help meet people’s urgent needs.

Following is a snapshot of what Global Washington members are doing to respond:

American Red Cross
The global Red Cross network is scaling up to support the most at-risk communities across Africa. Bolstered by the network of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world, the American Red Cross is mobilizing quickly on a strategy to deliver relief and aid to hard-to-reach and underserviced areas. The organization is also seeking to increase a community-based health response that treats and prevents malnutrition and infectious disease outbreaks, builds community resilience through programs that restore dignity, strengthen food security and support long-term development programs, such as cash, livelihoods and water, sanitation and hygiene programs.

Americares is delivering emergency medical aid to Somalia, focusing on treating cholera. The organization’s first shipments include enough intravenous fluids to provide life-saving treatment to nearly 4,000 patients. Americares has professional relief workers ready to respond to disasters at a moment’s notice and stocks emergency medicine and supplies in its warehouses in the U.S., Europe and India that can be delivered quickly in times of crisis. The organization responds to an average of 30 natural disasters and humanitarian crises worldwide each year. Learn more.

International Rescue Committee
For over 20 years, the IRC has been one of the largest providers of aid in southern Sudan. The organization also has active programs in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. In all these countries, the IRC provides life-saving assistance to vulnerable people in hard-to-reach areas. Learn more.

Medical Teams International
Roughly 3,500 refugees per day pour across Uganda’s borders, into cramped intake areas where Medical Teams International provides health screenings and referrals. Malnourishment, malaria and cholera are among the most common issues being treated. Of the 1.5 million South Sudanese refugees globally, MTI works in the settlements serving 520,000 of these vulnerable people (and that number is rising as more flee South Sudan). Learn more.

Mercy Corps
Mercy Corps is currently working with local partners to meet the needs of an estimated 350,000 people in all four countries (South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen) and to deliver food, water, sanitation supplies, hygiene promotion and education. Learn more.

NetHope is an organization that convenes the world’s largest international non-profit organizations (NGOs) and technology giants to help tackle global challenges. NetHope, a 49-member organization, is a catalyst for productive innovation and problem solving in humanitarian crises and conservation work.

Oxfam is helping nearly two million people in the four hunger-ravaged countries, providing families with desperately needed food, clean drinking water, and sanitation. Learn more.

UNICEF is working with partners to provide lifesaving, therapeutic treatment to 220,000 severely malnourished children in Nigeria, more than 200,000 severely malnourished children in South Sudan, more than 200,000 severely malnourished children in Somalia, and 320,000 children in Yemen. Micronutrients and ready-to-use therapeutic food — as well as clean, safe drinking water — are some of UNICEF’s key tools in fighting this famine. Learn more.

World Vision
World Vision is responding to the crisis in South Sudan and Somalia, providing food assistance and emergency water trucking in the hardest hit areas to meet the surging demand. In addition, the organization is providing basic health services, with mobile teams providing out-patient care, immunization services and Oral Rehydration Treatment. Emergency shelters are also being set up for internally displaced people.  Learn more.