Severe hunger that threatens lives is spreading across parts of Africa. Chronically and silently, a food crisis has been growing which the UN says now means that 20million people are facing deadly hunger. It hasn’t happened in a day, it won’t be solved in one, but it desperately needs the world’s focus to save those lives.
In Somalia, South Sudan, northern Nigeria and then in Yemen, within a hairsbreadth of the east coast of Africa, the Red Cross are seeing people facing such severe hunger that their lives are threatened. The UN says that 1.4million children are at imminent risk of death from severe acute malnutrition.
In many ways, these are unconnected regional crises fuelled by different political contexts and pressures, across a continent that stretches thousands of miles. Each has its own mix of chronic, protracted causes. Climate change and severe weather conditions play a part in Somalia, for example, but the one uniting feature is conflict.
Conflict creates extreme vulnerability. Livelihoods are decimated by displacement and insecurity – crops are not cultivated, trade is cut off, businesses shut down. It’s difficult to get aid to those most in need but the Red Cross is present in all of these places and what we’re seeing on the ground is a worsening humanitarian crisis that shows no signs of slowing.
People are in critical need of food, water and shelter, with women and children suffering the most. Millions are ‘severely food insecure’, meaning they don’t have enough food to feed themselves. Malnutrition rates are alarmingly high- and most have not had enough food for months or even years. Many people affected by the food crisis are also nursing the physical and mental scars of war and conflict.
These situations are rapidly deteriorating and will continue to do so unless urgent action is taken to address the severity of the crises. Significant hurdles to aid actors remain whether they are related to security, logistics or the result of insufficient funding.
We hoped we wouldn’t be here less than a year ago, when the humanitarian community came together at the World Humanitarian Summit and committed to find ways to work differently to end need, including by anticipating crises instead of waiting for them to happen. But these are the crises that are too often ignored until it is too late, marginalised by the media and humanitarian organisations.
Part of the reason they are so easy to ignore is the very complexity of the picture. It’s hard for people to understand the scale and nature of a famine that is really about war and conflict, the political contexts that fuel them and the barriers that prevent solutions. In the UK, the media is focusing more in recent days after the development secretary Priti Patel announced a new push to help Somalia and South Sudan. But the level of need is staggering.
This is why we must forge partnerships of joint-action between humanitarian and development actors, and between the international community and national and local governments to strengthen our immediate relief efforts. We need a concerted push on fundraising but also the political attention to focus on the solutions. We the need the public to understand this crisis to help put the pressure on international actors to focus on them.
We need to find creative ways to get round the barriers we face. Delivering aid to the millions of people affected is a huge logistical operation. In South Sudan we are using air drops to provide aid for the first time in 20 years. Successful local solutions; emergency cash distributions – sometimes the most efficient way to help people and give local economies a chance – as well as direct food aid need to be dramatically increased to support the ever-growing number of people affected by this crisis. We must act now.