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20 million people are at risk of starvation in worst humanitarian crisis since World War II

Story by United Nations Development ProgrammeApril 21st, 2017

Northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen are facing conflict and drought and are now approaching famine, with 20 million people near starvation in the worst preventable humanitarian crisis since World War II. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for US$4.4 billion by July to avert “catastrophe” in the four countries.

The crises are closely linked to conflict, fragility, and insecurity. The United Nations is leading efforts by humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding partners in all four countries, delivering urgent aid and building resilience among vulnerable people over the longer term.

Swift delivery of aid, combined with early recovery and emergency development work, can address and prevent famine and ensure durable peace. Building resilience to future shocks is vital. This means creating opportunities for people to quickly earn an income to support their families and ensuring basic services are restored.


Some 5.1 million people urgently need food and livelihoods assistance resulting from long-term social, political and economic exclusion, along with violent conflict. Nearly seven out of 10 people were living below the extreme poverty line before the current crisis, and farmers have been unable to plant food crops for the third consecutive year after losing tools, seeds and livestock.


Nearly 3 million people urgently need food and livelihoods support, UNDP and OCHA have redirected programmes to the hardest hit areas. The new Somalia National Development Plan, devised last year with UNDP’s support, prioritized resilience and climate change. With OCHA, UNDP is supporting disaster preparedness in Somaliland and Puntland, working with humanitarian affairs and disaster management agencies and forming local disaster committees.

Some 65 percent of the Somali population is rural and engaged in pastoral, agro-pastoral and subsistence agriculture as a livelihood. As part of an ongoing Climate Change Resilience Programme, UNDP has helped the regional Ministry of Environment in Puntland build a main water reservoir, serving 15,000 pastoralists and their livestock and providing water storage for four months.

In partnership with a local humanitarian agency, UNDP provided primary environmental and clean-up care for internally displaced people living in camps in Baidoa, South West State, benefitting 984 households.

Rehabilitated water catchment facilities in Puntland have benefitted 650 households. Solar panels previously supplied by UNDP have met 75 percent of energy needs in the main treatment centre serving more than 2,000 cholera patients in Baidoa.


Some 5 million people urgently need food and livelihoods assistance following severe damage to crop production, rural livelihoods and the economy broadly because of ongoing conflict. Recovery and stabilization are needed to stop the famine from spreading to as many as 1 million more people.

UNDP, UNICEF, WFP, UNHCR and FAO are working together to prevent the famine from spreading into other vulnerable areas—focusing on livelihoods, food security, local economic revitalization, basic services, and peace and reconciliation.

UNDP South Sudan has championed an integrated recovery and resilience-building programme, strengthening social services for the most vulnerable, building peace, strengthening governance and reinvigorating the local economy. The programme aims to help communities better withstand shocks and crises by:

  • Supporting women vegetable producers for enhanced nutrition by providing irrigation pumps, agricultural tools, and seeds
  • Providing emergency employment to help revive local markets and supporting small traders and businesses to incentivize food production
  • Implementing cash-for-work programmes to build feeder road networks, enhancing access to local markets
  • Diversifying livelihood options by rehabilitating the local vocational training centre; trades will focus on food- and fish-processing for adequate nutrition
  • Introducing renewable energy solutions to keep health and education facilities running, with support from local government institutions


Some 17 million people—65 percent of households—are now considered “food-insecure,” as a result of ongoing conflict that has killed more than 7,600 people and injured more than 42,000. Before the conflict erupted in March 2015, Yemen depended on imports for 90 percent of its staple food, but now imports are restricted. Nor do the most vulnerable people, such as widows, orphans, the disabled, and elderly, receive government-funded monthly safety net allowances any longer.

UNDP’s work in Yemen will benefit:

  • 410,000 people directly and nearly 2 million indirectly, with cash-for-work programmes
  • 2.5 million people through restored community services such as water and sanitation.
  • 27,000 agriculture and fishery businesses and health-care providers
  • 85,000 women and children through nutrition programmes
  • 250,000 people through removal of landmines and other explosives.

For more information on UNDP’s response to the hunger crises in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, visit

With your support, we can do more to prevent famine and other crises around the world.

Footnote: All photos © UNDP

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