Hungry in a world of plenty: millions on the brink of famine

Amina*, 55, a mother of 12, stands with her children outside their hut in the village of Toumour in north eastern Niger, on September 6, 2016.
Across the Lake Chad Basin, some 7 million people struggling with food insecurity need asistance.

Today, the world stands on the brink of an unprecedented four famines. 20 million people are at risk of starvation in South Sudan - where famine has already been declared - Somalia, Yemen and Northern Nigeria.

These are just four of the many countries that are facing high levels of food insecurity this year. In Malawi, Sudan, Afghanistan, DRC or Syria millions of people do not have enough food to feed their families. The situation in some of these countries could worsen if the international community do not address urgent needs and resolve the root causes.

What is famine?

Famine represents the most serious food insecurity situation in terms of both scale and severity.

It occurs when a substantial number of people are dying due to a lack of food or because of a combination of lack of food and disease. When more than 20% of households cannot eat, acute malnutrition exceeds 30% and death and starvation are evident we cannot talk about a humanitarian “emergency” situation anymore but a “famine”. Learn more about the language of food crises.

Famine threat on the map

What are the main causes of famine?

There is not a single root cause that just explains all famines - each context has its unique aspects. However, there is always a fatal combination of various factors that can include conflict, insecurity, access, chronic poverty, lack of trade and severe weather events such as persistent drought.

For example, ongoing war and conflict are the primary drivers of the situation in northern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, and for Somalia it is drought and weak governance after years of conflict. In some parts of Ethiopia and Kenya, communities are also suffering from a catastrophic drought which makes it incredibly hard for them to buy food locally or have any source of income.

What is sure is that we always have the power to prevent and end famine, but we always let it happen. A declaration of famine is effectively an admission that the international community has failed to organize and act in time and that national governments have been unable or unwilling to respond. 

What is Oxfam doing?

Oxfam is working in South Sudan, Lake Chad Basin, across the Horn of Africa and in Yemen to provide life-saving support to those most in need of help. Our response so far has included:

  • Providing emergency food and nutrition support, as well as essentials as cooking equipment and buckets.
     
  • Giving people access to safe, clean water by trucking in water, setting up water storage points and rehabilitating boreholes.
     
  • Distributing cash and vouchers for seeds, tools and livestock care. 
     
  • Improving sanitation through the construction of bathing facilities and repair of toilets to prevent the spread of disease.
     
  • Providing vouchers for canoes in South Sudan so people can travel across the swamps to access food. 
     
  • Supporting women who have suffered from sexual violence and exploitation.
     

Donate now 

7.5 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance in South Sudan, and half of the population is expected to be affected by extreme hunger by July. Help us reach the most vulnerable people.