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You might think famines are a thing of the past. They should be. Yet as you read this, 41 million people around the world stand on the brink — and the slightest shock could tip them over the edge. Tragically, by the time a famine is declared, it's already too late. Thousands of people are already dying of hunger.

WFP has the expertise, deep-field presence and operational scale to stop famine in its tracks, and steer people away from the edge of starvation. We work around the clock to avert famine, but urgently need US$6 billion to do this. The price of doing nothing will inevitably be measured in lost lives.

In a world where food production keeps increasing, there is no reason that humans should still be suffering this fate.

Declaring a famine

  1. At least 20% of households face extreme food shortages
  2. At least 30 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition
  3. The daily death rate from starvation, or a combination of malnutrition and disease exceeds 2 people per 10,000

The majority of affected people live in countries in Africa. However, acute hunger is set to rise steeply in most world regions, from the Middle East to Latin America and the Caribbean.

Famines tend to occur in areas where humanitarian access is restricted. In Yemen and South Sudan in particular, conflict, insecurity and resulting displacement are driving up levels of acute hunger to alarming levels.

In 2021, 584,000 people will likely face famine-like conditions in Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen. Nigeria and Burkina Faso are also of particular concern because they have in recent months had pockets of people in famine-like conditions.

The threat of famine and starvation is also growing in Afghanistan,  the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. More than 41 million people in 43 countries are currently on the very edge of famine and risk starvation, up from 27 million people in 2019.

 

South Sudan: Children in Akobo East, Jonglei, take a lunch of sorghum with a local fruit — famine was last declared in the country in 2017. Photo: WFP/Marwa Awad
South Sudan: Children in Akobo East, Jonglei, take a lunch of sorghum with a local fruit — famine was last declared in the country in 2017. Photo: WFP/Marwa Awad

What causes famine?

Conflict is the biggest driver of famine, while climate change and the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic are contributing to sharply increasing hunger numbers. Hunger levels worsen when conflict drives large numbers of people from their homes, their land and their jobs. Famines tend to occur in areas where access is restricted, a common factor in conflict zones. Inequality is also critical factor, with low incomes putting affordable food beyond the reach of millions.

Measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 have hit economies worldwide, pushing millions into unemployment and poverty, and leaving governments and donors with fewer resources to address the food and nutritional needs of the most vulnerable people.

WFP has the expertise and reach to help prevent famines from occurring, through various approaches.

How we tackle famine

Emergency food assistance

The most powerful tool that WFP can deploy to save lives in the face of famine is emergency food assistance, both in-kind and cash-based. In Yemen, WFP’s largest-ever scale up of food assistance, from 1 million people in 2015 to nearly 13 million helped avert famine in 2019.

Technology

Cutting-edge technology allows WFP to raise the alarm where circumstances are rapidly deteriorating, providing insights that inform the right response and ensure we reach those in urgent need.

Logistics & supply chain

WFP’s logistics and supply chain capabilities can move huge quantities of food to where they’re most needed — in extreme cases using airdrops and airlifts. On any given day, WFP has 5,000 trucks, 20 ships and 92 planes on the move; every year WFP distributes more than 15 billion food rations.

Longer-term thinking

Eliminating the threat of starvation and preventing famine entirely will require longer term and more complex interventions, including strengthening education, nutrition, livelihood resilience and social protection systems such as school meals programmes.

Famine is never inevitable – with proper planning and coordination, it can be prevented and millions of lives can be saved. We deploy a variety of tools to both prevent and respond to famine. Here is a selection.

The tools we use

Rapid Response Mechanism

WFP has rolled this tool out in South Sudan and northeast Nigeria, among other countries, allowing mobile response teams to reach people in remote, isolated areas. Travelling usually by helicopter, they register people so WFP can transport food, nutrition supplies and other assistance by road, river or airdrops.

Hunger Map Live

The map deploys artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics to predict and track the magnitude and severity of hunger in close to real time in more than 90 countries.

Emergency Service Marketplace

This mechanism makes WFP’s expertise in supply chain, engineering, IT and administration available to the wider humanitarian community in times of crisis.