Esther, 29, and her 20-month-old daughter Susan who is being treated for malnutrition, Turkana, Kenya.
Marion Kwambai / Save the Children

– More than 750,000 people facing famine conditions in worst hunger crisis in decade

– Save the Children releases US$28.5 mln cash to 19 countries gripped by hunger crisis

Families facing the worst global hunger crisis in decades are resorting to desperate means to survive, drinking from cattle troughs, eating putrid meat, and fighting off wild animals for food, according to Save the Children which has announced an urgent injection of funding to a rapidly escalating disaster.

Figures show that the number of people going hungry daily has doubled to 276 million from 135 million in the past two years and now up to 750,000 people are facing famine conditions in five countries as drought collides with conflict and COVID-19.

The war in Ukraine has disrupted the global food system by sending the prices of wheat, and sunflower oil rocketing, exacerbating severe hunger crises in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Yemen to the Sahel region of Western Africa, with Save the Children staff seeing more and more children with life-threatening malnutrition.

The Horn of Africa has been crippled by drought after four consecutive failed rainy seasons with 18.4 million people facing acute food insecurity, raising fears about a repeat of 2011 when a lack of intervention led to famine in Somalia that killed 260,00 people, of whom half were children aged under 5.

In parts of northern Kenya, the only water available to some families is from animal troughs which is spreading debilitating illnesses like diarrhoea through communities, severely impacting children.

Save the Children staff working in eastern Ethiopia reported increased encroachments into communities by starving wild animals, with monkeys attacking women and children they think may be carrying food or water and warthogs coming into homes.

Reports of children suffering from malnutrition in Somalia are increasing rapidly with 1.5 million children expected to be facing acute malnutrition by the end of the year, including 386,400 who are likely to be severely malnourished.

In response to the worsening crisis, Save the Children said it was allocating US$28.5 million to 19 countries facing pressing hunger emergencies, the largest ever single release of cash from its Humanitarian Fund, a flexible structure which manages and disburses funds to support emergency preparedness and under-prioritised crises.

Gabriella Waaijman, Save the Children’s Humanitarian Director, said:

“The worst global food crisis in decades is putting millions of children’s lives on the line. The combined impact of conflicts, climate change, COVID, and the cost of inflating food prices due to the conflict in Ukraine crisis has left up to 750,000 people facing famine conditions. A further 49 million people could soon follow unless they receive immediate support. Failure to act now will prove catastrophic and could cost thousands of lives.

“Huge progress has been made in recent decades to reduce global hunger. Countries on the frontline of the climate crisis have become increasingly resilient – new and innovate methods of managing the risk of cyclical crises, like drought, have been successful. But all countries have a limit, and for many, this has been exceeded. Progress is now being reversed.”

Save the Children is prioritising providing critical support to 19 countries where extreme hunger threatens to claim thousands of children’s lives and futures over the next few months.

These countries are Afghanistan, Myanmar, DRC, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon.

Save the Children is already providing food, cash, livelihood support, and critical health and nutrition services to stop children from going hungry, either now, or in the future. The organisation is also working with partners to help communities spot early warning signs for hunger drivers, so they can take the necessary steps to protect themselves and mitigate against the worst impacts.

Mthulisi Dube, a nutritionist currently working with Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit in Turkana in Northern Kenya, said at least 229,000 children across northern Kenya are severely acutely malnourished with their lives as risk.

“There is illness everywhere, linked to hunger and thirst. I’ve heard that in some communities, the situation is so bad that after their animals starve to death, people have had to eat the putrid meat, because they have no other option for food.

“Children are drinking from drying riverbeds and wells normally reserved for livestock. They are coming down with diarrhoea, which is worsening their dehydration. It’s a vicious cycle.

“We are also finding it harder and harder to treat unwell children, because families are continually on the move. We have been moving our health posts to the most remote hubs, far from major towns, where herding communities normally know where to find us, but they are five steps ahead of us –walking, looking for food and water.

“A choice between a drink of water or antibiotics is not a choice. No human should be in this position. It’s not dignified, it’s not safe, it’s wrong, and decision makers and donors need to act now to stop this situation getting any worse.”

An already critical humanitarian situation in South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has been further compounded by the third consecutive years of severe flooding leaving an estimated 63% of the population – of 7.7 million people – facing high levels of acute food insecurity.

In Afghanistan, 9.6 million children are going hungry every day due to a dire combination of economic collapse, the impacts of the war in Ukraine and an ongoing drought, latest figures show.

Gabriella Waaijman said malnutrition caused by extreme hunger remains one of the biggest killers of young children globally yet it is entirely preventable.

“We are calling on donors to join us and provide additional, flexible funding to support the scale-up of urgent lifesaving services to the most at-risk communities. We know how to treat malnutrition and we know how to prevent it. All we need now is a unified global response to stop this hunger crisis in its tracks.

“Together we can also stop the risk of this deadly killer coming back in the future. We know today’s drivers of hunger require innovative, long-term solutions that build resilience and address root causes. A purely responsive system will not be able to prepare or respond to challenges in the years to come. Together, with governments, donors, partners, and communities, we must change the course of this global crisis to create a safe, happy and healthy world for our children, free from harm and hunger.”