World Vision International
article • Tuesday, May 23rd 2017

Famine: a symptom of conflict and a global protection crisis

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Toto, 8, at a UN Protection of Civilians site in Juba, South Sudan. He is living at the PoC without parents. ©World Vision/Stefanie Glinski

Famine does not come like a thief in the night. Warning signs were clear long before an urgent alert was issued in January 2017. Levels of acute hunger were already on the rise. An increase in the number, severity and longevity of conflicts has led to the largest number of forcibly displaced people since World War II. More people are vulnerable to climate-related disasters, such droughts, which are becoming more frequent and intense. Amidst all of this, the gap between the humanitarian need and available funding is ever-widening.

Still, the warning signs were ignored. In February 2017, famine was declared in parts of South Sudan. Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen face a credible risk of famine. All told, more than 20 million lives are at risk across these four countries. At the beginning of 2017, the number of people requiring life-saving food assistance was 108 million, a 35 per cent increase in one year.

In this day and age, we know that famine is not primarily a shortage of available food. The world produces more than enough food for everyone. The issue is access – ensuring everyone has enough nutritious food each day to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Food is not a privilege, it is a human right.

At its core, the famine crisis currently unfolding is a stark manifestation of a global protection crisis -- and the world’s most vulnerable children are paying the steepest price in a world slow to action. Across the four countries at risk of famine, 1.4 million children are severely acutely malnourished.  If left untreated, more than one-third of these children will die from starvation and disease.

Collectively, we are failing to protect the rights and entitlements of the world’s most vulnerable citizens. We are failing to protect their right to the most fundamental basic needs – nutrition, protection and health. We are failing to protect children’s right to a life free from violence and to grow up feeling safe and secure. We are failing to protect children by addressing the structural causes of extreme poverty, hunger and deprivation, so that they can realise their full potential over a lifetime.

Just six years ago, the world faced a challenge like this when famine was declared in Somalia. Similarly, the world was well aware of the situation beforehand, but was slow to react. More than 260,000 people died during that famine, half of whom were children. And of those that died, half died before the famine was officially declared in July 2011. Following this preventable tragedy, there was a global cry of “never again”. Today we are facing a much greater crisis at an unprecedented scale with many more millions of lives on the line.

This week, world leaders will gather at the annual G7 Summit taking place in Taormina, Italy. Leaders from seven of the world’s largest economies come together to discuss the state of the world and make collective steps towards a better world. This year, urgent action on the famines and the global hunger crisis must be on the agenda for the summit.  

The G7 leaders have the opportunity to deliver concrete actions on their prior commitments to lift 500 million people out of hunger and poverty, and demonstrate their commitment to Agenda 2030’s pledge to “Leave No-one Behind”. They must respond to current humanitarian emergencies and looming famines at a scale that such a situation demands. In addition, they must make investments that address the underlying causes of hunger crises so that we never find ourselves here again, rebuilding the rebuilding the systems which protect children and work towards ending global hunger.

Learn more by reading our policy report Famine: the end point of a global protection crisis.

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