Seeking sustainable solutions to famine and undernutrition

Famine in Africa map

Across Africa and the Middle East, 30 million people are at risk of starvation. Famine has been declared in South Sudan, while Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia also face devastating food crises.1 Furthermore, millions in Niger, Chad, Ethiopia and Kenya need urgent food assistance.2 UN officials have warned that this is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II and it is the first time they have officially deployed the term ‘famine’ since 2011.3 In South Sudan, which has been worst affected, more than one million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished, including 270,000 children who face the imminent risk of death.4

Although The Power of Nutrition focuses on securing long term sustainable nutrition solutions rather than supporting emergency humanitarian aid, famine and nutrition are explicitly linked. The UN’s definition of famine includes ‘when more than 30% of children under age five suffer from acute malnutrition’.5 As the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator recently highlighted, this famine leaves millions of children at risk of stunting , and gains in economic development will be reversed.6 It is vital that these children get the support they need and that the underlying causes of famine, which are often political, are addressed otherwise 1.4 million children could die of starvation in the coming months.7 In the long term, sustainable solutions to securing nutritious diets for these children will also need to be identified and funded.

However, it is also important to recognise the additional millions of children around the world who are chronically at risk of stunting. In countries like Burundi and Madagascar around half of all children under five are stunted. In India, 61m children already suffer from stunting: this is one third of the global total of stunted children.8 This is why The Power of Nutrition is bringing large scale, sustainable and government driven programmes to countries across Sub Saharan Africa and Asia. The benefits of good nutrition are numerous: as well as improving brain development, a well-nourished child is also less susceptible to many diseases. Without these interventions, millions of children, in addition to those affected by famine, will not reach their full potential and countries will see significant social and economic losses as a result.

1 Oxfam International, Famine and hunger crisis, available at: https://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/famine-and-hunger-crisis?utm_source=appeal&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=4famines&
2 Oxfam International.
3 The Economist, Impending famines in Africa and Yemen have political causes, 30th March 2017, available at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/03/daily-chart-22
4 Al Jazeera, Famine ‘largest humanitarian crisis in history of UN’, 11th March 2017, available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/03/famine-united-nations-170310234132946.html
5 The United Nations, Famine declared in region of South Sudan – UN, 20th February 2017, available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56205#.WRsouYWcFMM
6 Al Jazeera, 11th March 2017.
7 Oxfam International.
8 The World Health Organisation, Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates – levels and trends, 2016, available at: http://www.who.int/nutgrowthdb/estimates2015/en/