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60 million children across eight humanitarian crises need urgent help to survive

COVID-19 has put decades of progress at risk for vulnerable children.
26 January 2021

An astonishing 60 million[i] children who need help to survive this year – half of all the children in need globally – live in just eight countries. Save the Children is calling for a concerted and immediate global response in 2021 to ensure last year’s setbacks do not permanently impact an entire generation for years to come. 

COVID-19 has put decades of progress for the world’s most vulnerable children at risk. Weak health systems were impacted as children saw their parents or teachers being taken away to hospitals with the virus. Children went hungry as families were plunged into poverty because breadwinners lost their income.  

The education of more than 300 million pupils is affected by the pandemic[ii], as many schools had to close to curb the virus, increasing the risk of child abuse, exploitation, child marriage or children dropping out of school permanently. 

According to the UN, more than 235 million people – an estimated half of them children – will need some form of humanitarian assistance this year, up from 170 million in 2020. That’s a dramatic 40 percent increase in less than a year. 

Of the roughly 117.7 million children who need life-saving support in 2021, more than half (60 million) live in just eight countries, with Yemen, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo accounting for more than 10 million children each.  






















Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children said:

“2021 can be better, or far worse, than 2020 for children – it completely depends on humanity coming together to fight for every child to survive, learn, thrive, and be protected against violence. There is no excuse for children going hungry day-after-day, being forced to work to put food on the table, or denied their right to education. 

“We are particularly worried about the numbers of children at risk of acute and severe malnutrition if we fail to act now. We can’t ignore the clear warning signs of dangerous food shortages and a risk of famine in many countries, including Yemen, DRC, South Sudan, and parts of Nigeria. 

“Even before the pandemic, children were facing a triple-threat to their rights from conflict, climate change and hunger. If we delay action, we risk losing thousands – potentially tens of thousands – of children from entirely preventable causes. We cannot let that happen."

Haifa* from Yemen is 11 months old and suffers from severe acute malnutrition, the most life-threatening form of extreme hunger. She weighs just 2.7kg, less than half of what she should at her age (6.4kg). Her family is surviving on just two meals a day, of tea and bread for breakfast and dinner. Her mother, Roqea*, told Save the Children:

“My daughter started getting sick when she was 3 months. When I took her to the hospital, they told me that she is malnourished. She got some treatment in the past, but she kept getting worse. Since she got sick, she never fully recovered, I thought she would never recover. Usually we just have tea and bread for breakfast and dinner. Sometimes we have eggs for lunch. The only thing I hope for the future is for my child to recover and to be able to walk.”

To help tackle the biggest threat to children’s survival and other rights in living memory, Save the Children is launching a US$769 million (AU$997 million) plan to reach 15.7 million people including 9.4 million children in 37 countries

Save the Children is working hard to ensure that in 2021, children affected by crisis can access education and are protected from violence, exploitation, and other forms of abuse. The organisation is also working to ensure families are supported financially, so their children can keep learning and have access to healthcare, clean water, and nutritious food. In all its responses, Save the Children will be particularly focusing on empowering girls and women, to make sure they have equal access to support and services. 


Content and spokespeople are available.

Media contact Kimberley Gardiner on 0437435777 or 

*Names have been changed.


  • Save the Children’s global humanitarian plan for 2021 includes four strategic goals underpinned by our commitment to quality, accountability and partnership:

  • Ensure children and their families have access to essential health, nutrition and WASH services in conflict, crisis and disaster affected countries.

  • Ensure the education, protection, and wellbeing of crisis-affected children by ensuring a safe return to learning (either remote or in person).

  • Children, including girls, adolescents, children living outside of family care, and those in conflict, will be protected from violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect.

  • Families are enabled to meet their basic needs and reduce the use of negative coping strategies, especially those affecting children, through increased access to income opportunities, cash and voucher assistance (CVA) for basic needs (including food), in-kind food when CVA is not appropriate, and government social protection schemes.

  • Save the Children supports therapeutic feeding services for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition within the hospital in Taiz, Yemen, where Haifa* was treated, including primary health services for mothers or relatives of patients during the admission period. Our teams provide Infant and Young child feeding corner where a trained midwife is providing counselling for patients’ mothers. Save the Children is also building the capacity of health workers and supporting the rehabilitation of different facilities of the hospital. 

[i] An estimated total of 60,237,000 children will need humanitarian assistance in Yemen, Ethiopia, DRC, Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Pakistan, and Nigeria. The figure based on info from national HRP’s, or was calculated by extrapolating the under-18 populations in the countries for which detailed national HRP data was not yet available, using UN data on the total number of people in need.

[ii] Data per 17 January 2021

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