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Press Release

South Sudan famine is the price of inaction

International Community should take warnings seriously

Last updated 
  • Famine designation means people are already dying: international response is by definition too late;
  • The International Rescue Committee predicts imminent famine in Somalia, Yemen, and northeast Nigeria;
  • The IRC has grave concerns for over 30 million people, currently facing man-made food insecurity in the region;
  • The IRC calls for unimpeded humanitarian access, increased civilian protection, and an immediate increase in funding to the affected regions.

The famine in South Sudan’s Unity State is a worrying escalation of an already immense humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the Horn and East Africa region, the International Rescue Committee warned today. Similar crises – also driven by violence and war – are unfolding in Yemen and Northeast Nigeria. Throughout these regions, insecurity, severe drought and an exponential increase in food prices have brought millions to the brink of famine – as humanitarian organizations struggle to reach those who need their help most.

“These crises remain among the least discussed and most underfunded in the world despite their extraordinary scale, scope, and man-made origins. This is absurd,” said Ciaran Donnelly, international programs director at the International Rescue Committee. “An immediate increase in humanitarian resources to the affected regions, commensurate with the scale and intensity of needs, is beyond critical. We’ve been here before and we know that it is already late.”

In South Sudan, a violent civil war has disrupted consecutive farming seasons, paralyzed public services, and blocked humanitarian aid. Almost five million people, or almost half the population of the country, don’t have enough food to survive.

The situation is similar in Somalia where more than a million people are internally displaced and over three million are facing starvation, with this number expected to triple by August 2017, according to projections by the Famine Early Warning System Network.

The IRC remains gravely concerned about the conditions in northeastern Nigeria, which are above emergency thresholds. According to the OCHA Humanitarian needs overview, as of January 2017, 5.1 million people are facing critical food deficits. The ongoing war against Boko Haram continues to ravage the region and limit access to affected populations. There are no jobs, little education, and the health infrastructure has been completely destroyed. This is all exacerbated by an economy in free fall.

And food insecurity in Yemen is at an all-time high, with over 14 million people affected – again, half of the entire population.

A key challenge across these regions is humanitarian access; it’s a real struggle for aid staff to operate in these insecure areas and warring parties and insecurity continue to make it difficult for help to make it to those who need it the most. In Nigeria, international aid groups rely on just a handful of helicopters to get them in and out of insecure areas only recently retaken from Boko Haram. The IRC calls on the international community to put pressure on all parties to these conflicts to ensure the protection of civilians and uninterrupted access to life-saving humanitarian assistance to all affected populations.

But a lack of resources has slowed the response as well. The 2017 humanitarian appeals for these crisis-affected countries are inadequate (South Sudan 0.9%, Somalia 3.5%, Nigeria 1.8%, Yemen 1.8% funded). The IRC urgently calls on donors to immediately prioritize these destabilizing crises and increase funding to the humanitarian response – more specifically, increased life-saving food assistance – both in kind and through cash relief – increased support to emergency nutrition programming to stave off the effects of severe acute malnutrition, especially for children under five, and water and sanitation programs.

The upcoming international donors conference in Oslo on February 24, which aims to bring attention to the crisis in northeastern Nigeria and the wider Lake Chad Basin region and secure additional resources for a higher quality response, is an opportunity that should be seized. Today, the IRC signed onto a letter expressing deep concern about the dire food security and nutrition situation in the Lake Chad Basin region. “The IRC and other aid groups have been raising the alarm of an impending famine in South Sudan for months, and instead of taking the warnings seriously, it fell largely on deaf ears. It is high time the entire international community take this declaration seriously, and not repeat the same mistakes in other countries facing man-made food crises,” Donnelly said. “Donors should act today. Millions of lives – including a generation of children – depend on it.”

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.