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11m children under five at risk of extreme hunger or starvation across eleven countries

Potential risk of famine in Yemen and South Sudan, warns Save the Children
30 November 2020
An estimated 11 million children under five are facing extreme hunger or starvation across eleven countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Middle East and Asia, new analysis by Save the Children reveals, with the potential risk of famine in Yemen and South Sudan. The aid agency is calling for an urgent and large-scale global response to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
Save the Children is particularly concerned for children in five ‘hunger hotspot’ countries/regions where the food crisis is extremely serious, made worse by insecurity: Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central Sahel (Mali, Niger & Burkina Faso). COVID-19, conflict and climate change could tip millions of families over the edge.
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International, said: “Levels of acute hunger, which were already at record global highs before the pandemic, are continuing to rise. Left unchecked, this puts millions of children’s lives at risk.
“The global hunger crisis is caused by a persistent lack of access to nutritious food in some of the most vulnerable communities in the world, and threatens to set countries back by years or even decades in their efforts to reduce child mortality and alleviate poverty. The situation is critical. We are looking at the very real possibility that thousands of children could die.
“Ending global hunger and malnutrition will not be easy. The international community must address the root causes of food shortages and malnutrition while at the same time providing immediate support to hungry and undernourished children.
“Only by putting an end to global conflicts, tackling chronic poverty as well as the risks brought by climate change, and building more resilient communities with access to strong nutrition services, will we be able to ensure that every child can grow up healthy. The time to act is now.  Millions of children’s lives hang in the balance.”
Save the Children analysed populations facing food insecurity across eleven of the worst-affected countries, using data from the World Food Programme and the Integrated Phase Classification / Cadre Harmonis√© – a famine early-warning system. Then, using UN population data, the agency extrapolated the estimated number of children under five considered to be at risk of hunger or starvation across all eleven countries.
This is because the first five years of a child’s life are critical. Without enough nutritious food to eat or the ability to absorb the right nutrients, children under five are at high risk of acute malnutrition which in turn can cause stunting, impede mental and physical development, increase the risk of developing other illnesses and ultimately cause death.


Under-fives at risk of hunger/starvation



Burkina Faso










Nigeria (NE+NW)




South Sudan




Yemen (south)




38-year-old Aker* from Abyei in South Sudan often has nothing to feed her three children. Her 8-month old daughter Adhar* was suffering from severe malnutrition. There are no proper health facilities to treat Adhar* where they live, and so mother and daughter had to travel over 60 kilometres on foot to reach the nearest clinic.  Aker* said:
“Most of the time the money I earn isn’t enough to buy food to feed my children and they go hungry. My daughter started to deteriorate because she wasn’t being fed enough. She began to lose weight and went for three days without food. And because I didn’t have enough to eat my body could not generate enough breast milk to feed her. I have no food at home to feed my children because of a poor harvest due to drought in 2019 and then flooding in 2020.”
In war-torn Yemen, 10.3 million children are facing food shortages. In just the southern half of the country 587,573 children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition, including nearly 100,000 on the brink of starving to death. The situation in the north is also perilous. A dramatic increase in food prices has affected the ability of families to feed their children, leading to an increase in cases of malnutrition and a potential risk of famine.
Afghanistan is on the front line of the hunger crisis. A third of the country is facing acute food shortages including more than 1.5 million children under five. COVID-19, movement restrictions, and inability to find work and rising food prices are also pushing this food crisis into urban areas on a scale not previously seen, while increasing insecurity and armed violence are making things worse.   
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) insecurity and conflict have had a devastating impact on peoples capacity to access food and 21.8 million people across this vast country are facing hunger, including nearly four million children under five.
Children in South Sudan remain in serious peril because of the cumulative effects of years of conflict, flooding and a poor economy which have destroyed livelihoods, disrupted food production and markets, wrecked the economy and forced four million people to flee their homes. More than half of the population (6.5 million) have faced food insecurity this year. Some 300,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. The country is facing a potential risk of famine.
The countries of the Central Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger) have for years been affected by the impacts of climate change, which has in turn disrupted availability and access to food and created the current nutrition crisis.

Millions of hungry and malnourished children need urgent support. Not only are people struggling to access healthy food but there is widespread disruption to the life-saving services designed to treat malnutrition as humanitarian access is shrinking at a time when it should be expanding.
Save the Children is calling for the international community to act fast to avoid a potentially devastating loss of life. The aid agency is also asking world leaders to prioritise humanitarian responses that provide urgent assistance to families facing hunger. Providing cash and vouchers directly to families – alongside essential nutrition support – is one of the best ways to address hunger and malnutrition in the short-term, as well as support more long-term community resilience enabling families to better withstand future shocks.  
*Name changed to protect identity
For media inquiries contact Evan Schuurman on 0406 117 9307
Notes to editors
Over the past few decades, huge progress had been made in the fight against malnutrition, but the number of undernourished people around the world has been increasing again. It is no coincidence that many of the countries now most at risk of hunger are also the ones mired in conflict, despite the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution calling for a global ceasefire to help tackle the pandemic.

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