Fighting Famine: The four countries where millions are starving

Credit: ITV News

In a week of special coverage, ITV News is taking a closer look at how widespread starvation is threatening countries in parts of Africa and the Middle East.

The United Nations has this week warned that drastic action is needed to help 20 million people facing starvation and famine across four countries.

Here are the four countries where millions are running short of food - along with details of what has caused the crises and what is being done to help them.


  • Population: 12 million

  • Surface area: 250,000 sqm

  • What is the situation?

Famine was declared in South Sudan in February, meaning people there have already started dying of hunger.

  • How many people are affected?

Millions of people are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 100,000 facing starvation now and a further one million on the brink of famine in Unity State.

It is estimated that more than one million children are acutely malnourished across South Sudan, with more than a quarter of these severely malnourished. UNICEF has warned that they will die without help.

An 87-year-old who has not eaten for three days lies down at a food distribution site. Credit: AP
  • Why is this happening?

When civil war erupted in the world’s newest nation in 2013, millions of people were uprooted from their homes.

As a result, many families have been cut off from humanitarian assistance, without access to food and safe water.

Some 14,000 children have been separated from their families and 17,000 are thought to have been forcibly recruited into armed groups.

The combination of violence, drought and an economic crisis have created the humanitarian emergency.

  • What areas are being affected?

The worst effects are being seen in Unity State in the northern-central part of the country, particularly in Leer and Mayendit counties, and the Northern Bahr el Ghazal region.

  • What is being done to help?

British and international aid organisations are working in South Sudan.

However, there have been reports of aid being blocked or restricted by the government, while it has also been suggested that the government could increase the cost of work permits for foreign aid workers.

The British government last month pledged £100 million to help battle famine in the country, with the money going towards food, water and healthcare.


  • Population: 186 million

  • Surface area: 356,000 sqm

A doctor feeds a malnourished child in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Credit: AP
  • What is the situation?

There is a serious risk of famine in parts of the country, particularly in the north-eastern Borno state, where agencies fear many people are already living in famine conditions.

There is a widespread nutrition crisis across the country.

  • How many people are affected?

Around five million people are in food crisis, according to Oxfam, with this number predicted to reach 5.7 million by June this year. In areas cut off from humanitarian aid, it is thought at least 400,000 people could already be living in famine-like conditions.

It is estimated that 250,000 children are severely malnourished, with up to 50,000 at risk of dying without immediate intervention. Action Against Hunger has had reports that up to 600 children are arriving at one health clinic every day.

  • Why is this happening?

Conflict between militant group Boko Haram and government forces in the north-east of the country has forced around 2.5 million people from their homes.

Many have had to shelter in areas that are already extremely deprived of food and water, while aid agencies have struggled to access certain regions because of the fighting.

Nigeria also suffers from periodic droughts and floods, which have had a negative effect on agriculture and make nutrition emergencies more likely.

A mother and her malnourished child at a Doctors Without Borders feeding centre. Credit: AP
  • What areas are being affected?

A food and nutrition emergency was declared in the north-eastern Borno State in July last year by the Nigerian government, a region aid agencies have struggled to reach because of conflict.

It is estimated that three million of the roughly five million people in need of emergency food assistance in Nigeria are located in Borno. Adamawa and Yobe states are also suffering.

  • What is being done to help?

Aid programmes are being run throughout the country, with some now reaching areas of Borno State, which were previously controlled by Boko Haram. More than $450 million (£370m) has been pledged by the international community to fund humanitarian efforts in 2017.

The British Government is contributing millions of pounds of support to help those affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, which it says is being used to provide food, treatment for children and access to clean water and sanitation.


  • Population: 27 million

  • Surface area: 203,800 sqm

Children play in rubble amidst a civil war that has left many starving. Credit: AP
  • What is the situation?

Yemen is standing on the brink of famine, with millions of families in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam has described it as the “largest hunger emergency in the world” and the UN predicts wheat stocks for the country will run out in April.

  • How many people are affected?

It is estimated around 14 million Yemenis do not know where their next meal will come from, while the UN says around 80% of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Millions of people have been displaced from their homes by conflict and nearly half a million children are at risk of life-threatening malnutrition.

  • Why is this happening?

A civil war broke out between two Yemeni factions in 2015, leaving thousands of people dead and more than three million displaced. Even before this, the country ranked lowly for development and was the poorest in the Arab world.

As well as the human cost, the conflict has devastated Yemen’s infrastructure, making access to those in need even harder. Water shortages have also increased the suffering for many.

A malnourished child waits for treatment at a feeding center in Sanaa. Credit: AP
  • What areas are being affected?

The impacts are being felt in many parts of Yemen, including Taiz and Hodeida, where acute malnutrition rates among children under five are more than double the emergency threshold set out by the UN.

  • What is being done to help?

In February, the UN launched an appeal for $2.1 billion (£1.7 billion) to provide assistance to Yemen in 2017. In December, the Disasters Emergency Committee, a group of leading UK aid organisations, launched an appeal to help Yemenis.

The British government has provided aid to more than one million Yemenis, but has also faced accusations of fuelling the conflict through arms sales to Saudi Arabia.


  • Population: 11 million

  • Surface area: 246,000 sqm

A nine-month-old girl whose family fled drought in southern Somalia. Credit: AP
  • What is the situation?

Drought has created a major food crisis in Somalia and if the rains do not come soon then there is likely to be a famine. The last time this happened – in 2011 – 258,000 people died, half of them under the age of five.

People are already dying from hunger, according to the country’s prime minister.

  • How many people are affected?

The World Food Programme estimates that nearly three million people cannot meet their daily food requirements and another 3.3 million need support to prevent them sliding into crisis.

The UN predicts that nearly one million children will be acutely malnourished this year, including 185,000 who will be severely malnourished and in need of urgent lifesaving support, a figure that is expected to rise.

  • Why is this happening?

The situation has been deteriorating since July, when a long dry season was followed by a devastating drought. This has had a disastrous impact on agriculture and livestock, with millions of animals dying and civilians suffering from food insecurity as a result.

The carcass of a goat lies in a drought-stricken desert area. Credit: AP
  • What areas are being affected?

The drought has gripped most parts of Somalia, with the food crisis at its worst in rural areas.

ITV News travelled to Somaliland – a self-declared independent country – and witnessed the devastating effects on remote communities, including meeting many sick and hungry children and old people.

  • What is being done to help?

Last month, the UK Government announced a new £100 million package of support to Somalia that will include emergency food supplies, nutritional support, safe drinking water and healthcare.

Nations around the world are providing support, but UNICEF and the World Food Programme say more than $450 million (£370m) is needed in the coming months.