It’s not a word we use lightly.
‘Famine’ is reserved for the worst possible food crisis. In fact, international agencies have agreed on a scientific definition to ensure the term isn’t exploited.
A declaration of famine means three terrible things:
At least one in five households has an extreme lack of food. They can only access one or two of the 12 food groups, so they may be eating very small amounts of basic grains but no vegetables, meats or legumes. Their livelihoods have almost completely collapsed, they can’t access four litres of safe water per person, per day and they have simply run out of ways to cope.
In South Sudan, families are resorting to ‘famine foods’ with little nutritional value. Athill-Chok’s family (left) is surviving on the seeds from a common grass that grows around their shelter, while another mother (right) picks a bowl of wild leaves to cook for her children’s dinner. © UNICEF/UN034412/Rich; © UNICEF/UN056590/Knowles-Coursin
More than 30% of children under the age of five are acutely malnourished. Without enough of the right nutrition, their bodies have wasted to a very low weight and are in serious danger of shutting down.
Children are already dying. The community is losing more than four out of 10,000 children every day.
Above all, the word ‘famine’ signals one message to the world: we have a small window to prevent a massive loss of life.