The Devastating Effects of Child Starvation & Malnutrition in Africa and the Middle East

Right now, it is estimated that one person is dying of hunger every four seconds. Nearly 45 million people in 37 countries are projected to have so little to eat that they will be severely malnourished, at risk of death or already facing starvation and death. 

There are four countries in Africa -  Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan - as well as two countries in the Middle East - Afghanistan and Yemen – where there will be widespread starvation and death over the next few months unless action is taken now.

Save the Children is providing critical support in countries where extreme hunger threatens to claim thousands of children’s lives—children who are facing a very real threat of starvation and death. However, the window of opportunity to avert widespread death and starvation is closing. We cannot wait for famine to be officially declared before acting. Children are already losing their lives. We must act now. There is no time to wait.

Children Facing Starvation in Africa and the Middle East Need Your Help Today

With hunger levels continuing to grow exponentially and thousands of people now on the brink of starvation, the situation has become critical.

Save the Children is providing critical support in countries where extreme hunger threatens to claim thousands of children’s lives and futures over the next few months. We are providing food, cash, livelihood support and critical health and nutrition services to stop children from going hungry, either now, or in the future

The world has alraedy seen the impact when we don’t act or delay, when 260,000 people lost their lives in a devastating famine in the Horn of Africa in 2011. Half of them were young children. We must not let history repeat itself. The window of opportunity to avert widespread death and starvation is closing. Your support can make a difference. 

A two-year old child is measured for malnutrition using a MUAC band.

Fawzia's mother travelled on foot for two days with her seven children from their rural farm to Baidoa in search of food, water and medical treatment.

Fawzia*Story: Screening Children in Africa for Malnutrition

Small measuring tapes like these are a crucial part of Save the Children’s malnutrition screening programs, like the one that helped two-year old Fawzia. Fawzia received treatment for malnutrition at Save the Children’s health clinic on the outskirts of Baidoa in Somalia.

Somalia is one of the three countries in the Horn of Africa where a catastrophic food crisis is unfolding.

Health workers used a MUAC band to determine Fawzia's level of malnutrition. MUAC (Mid-Upper Arm Circumference) tapes are very easy to use and can quickly deliver critical information. The bands are simply wrapped around the mid-point of the child’s upper arm and, taking into account the child’s ages, the circumference of their arm is measured against different colored zones on the band.

Green is normal, yellow is moderately malnourished and red is severely malnourished. If children in the red zone are not quickly treated, there is a very real risk the child could die or suffer from profound long-term health and development issues.

Our Impact Across Six Countries Facing Widespread Starvation Right Now

Right now, Save the Children is working in Africa, the Middle East and across the globe to save lives and prevent widespread hunger in the short-term, whilst also implementing long-term solutions and more resilient systems that better manage the risk of future crises.

More than half of children aged under five in Somalia are facing acute malnutrition, with one in six suffering from the most deadly form as time to fend off famine starts to run out.

Save the Children has worked in Somalia since 1951. This year, we have reached more than 24,000 people through cash programming and treated more than 50,000 children for malnutrition. We are currently providing water trucking to more than 25,000 households and unconditional cash provisions to nearly 11,000 households in the worst-affected areas.

South Sudan
The hunger crisis in South Sudan is especially dire, as roughly half the population is without enough food. Some 1.7 million people are facing emergency levels of hunger, which is one step away from famine. Nearly one million children under the age of five are acutely malnourished.

Our teams are working hard to screen children for malnutrition and help prevent the deadly diseases they are more likely to contract and die from, including measles, malaria, diarrhea, cholera and pneumonia.

Children are still feeling the impact from the worst drought to hit Ethiopia in more than 50 years. Millions of families dependent on rain to grow crops for food and income remain at risk of extreme hunger and malnutrition. Additionally, the country is home to one of the largest populations of refugees.

Save the Children has worked to improve nutrition among the poorest Ethiopian children. Working very closely with the government, our teams are devising a national nutrition plan and responding quickly and efficiently to save as many lives as possible. We are also working with communities to improve their knowledge so that they are better equipped to protect themselves and their children from the effects of hunger. Our mobile health teams provide assessment and treatment of children suffering malnutrition.

In Nigeria, a young boy hugs his mother's leg while standing outside and holding a bucket.

Right now, 1.9 million people require urgent humanitarian assistance, as conflict and displacement has left countless families without food or basic necessities.

We’re distributing food to vulnerable families, running feeding and treatment centers, in addition to providing psychosocial support.

In Afghanistan, a doctor holds a baby who is malnourished due to the ongoing hunger crisis.

Nearly 19 million people (45% of the population) across all 34 provinces of the Afghanistan, including nearly 10 million children, are expected to face crisis or worse (IPC 3+) levels of food insecurity. Nearly 6 million of those will be in emergency conditions (IPC 4), just one step away from famine. 

In Yemen, a young child receives treatment for malnutrition at a health center where children facing starvation are seen.

Over two-thirds of the population in Yemen is already need humanitarian assistance, and at least half of the population are food insecure.

[i] UNICEF Accessed 24 March 2018
[ii] In 2015, the infant mortality rate for American Indians was 8.2, compared to 5.9 for the United States as a whole. Source: National KIDS COUNT Data Center Accessed 25 March 2018
[iii] Stop the War on Children report
[iv] 2019 Global Childhood Report


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