Hunger Across Africa

How drought and conflict have put millions on the verge of famine

A mother feeds her child with a peanut-based paste for treatment of severe acute malnutrition in a UNICEF supported hospital in the capital Juba, South Sudan, January 25, 2017. Reuters.
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Explainer: The World’s Largest Crisis In 70 Years

Across a vast swath of Africa, millions face starvation. Drought, conflict and disease have led to the continent’s worst humanitarian crisis in decades.

In South Sudan, 1.6 million people have fled to nearby countries to escape war and find food. In Somalia, thousands of families have moved from their villages to camps for the displaced. In Nigeria, 450,000 children face acute malnutrition after years of attacks by the terror group Boko Haram. Here, VOA provides ongoing coverage of the disaster, its causes and the humanitarian response.

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Mapping the Threat

FEWS NET — the Famine Early Warning System Network — tracks food insecurity around the world. The project helps define how much hunger regions face by placing them on a five-point scale that ranges from minimal to catastrophic. Once food insecurity reaches famine levels, suffering and loss of life cannot be prevented, even with humanitarian assistance.

  1. Minimal. Up to 20 percent of households must take drastic steps to meet basic needs, for example, selling assets to pay for food or shelter.
  2. The remaining levels deal with challenges that affect at least 20 percent of households, despite the presence of humanitarian assistance.
  3. Stressed. Households cannot get enough food without meeting other non-food needs through unsustainable means.
  4. Crisis. Households either experience stretches of acute malnutrition or must deplete assets to meet food needs, leading to gaps in food consumption.
  5. Emergency. Households experience long stretches of acute malnutrition and excess mortality or see the extreme loss of assets.
  6. Catastrophe/Famine. Households experience an extreme lack of food, leading to starvation and death. When at least 20 percent of households in an area are affected, this phase represents the minimum threshold for famine. There are degrees of famine characterized by an increasing death rate and more rampant starvation.
Map of Africa Map of food insecurity Map of food insecurity Map of food insecurity Map of food insecurity Map of food insecurity Map of food insecurity Map of food insecurity Map of food insecurity Map of food insecurity

Move the levels left and right to update the map. Only countries with IPC levels in the specified range will appear. Source: FEWS.NET

Root Causes

Explore the root causes and contributing factors behind Africa’s deadliest food shortages in years.

  1. March 19, 2018UN: $1.7 Billion Needed for DRC Humanitarian Crisis
  2. February 26, 2018UN Warns Famine Conditions Set to Return in South Sudan
  3. November 6, 2017WFP: South Sudan Food Problem 'Worsening'
  4. March 27, 2017Experts Say Climate Change May Be Making African Drought Worse

Responses & Solutions

Track emergency interventions and long-term remedies designed to save lives.

  1. February 7, 2018Malawi Drought Sparks Mob Violence, Accusations of Witchcraft
  2. January 29, 2018Aid Agencies on Alert in Somalia Amid Low Rainfall
  3. January 24, 2018UN: 1.5 Million South Sudanese on Brink of Famine
  4. March 28, 2017Somaliland Hospital Cares for Malnourished From Drought

Country Reports

In three countries — Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia — food insecurity has reached emergency levels, and famine has been declared in part of South Sudan. Each of these countries has experienced years of devastating conflict, and ongoing violence and instability continue to limit access to humanitarian aid.


Northeastern Nigeria faces acute food shortages due in large part to years of attacks by Boko Haram. The terror group has displaced millions, including farmers who have missed multiple planting and harvesting seasons. The U.N. estimates that 450,000 children face acute malnutrition in the conflict area.


Somalia is rebuilding its civil and military institutions after 20 years of conflict. Challenges abound as the extremist group al-Shabab continues to control some regions and conducts regular attacks designed to cause many deaths. Conflict has left the country unprepared for an extended drought, and now more than half its population — 6.2 million people — face food insecurity, according to the U.N.

South Sudan

In Africa’s youngest country, a civil war has displaced millions of people, and warring parties have prevented humanitarian organizations from reaching people who need food. The U.N. reports that 270,000 children are severely malnourished, and over 5 million people are food insecure.