Frontline Stories

Learn about Hunger

When is a famine declared?

Famine has a technical definition based on food security and nutrition. For a famine to be declared there must be evidence of the following three conditions in the area:
  • At least 20% of the households face an extreme lack of food;
  • Acute malnutrition in more than 30% of children; and
  • The death rate must exceed two deaths per 10,000 people, or four child deaths per 10,000 people per day.
East and West Africa are two of the hardest hit regions by drought, food crisis and famine. In 2011 and 2012, the United Nations declared famine in six regions of Somalia.

What’s the difference between drought, food crisis, and famine?

DROUGHT – There isn’t enough water

It is a climatic condition characterised with prolonged and sustained length of time of abnormally low or no rainfall. Human intervention in the natural environment, pollution, deforestation all contributed to this natural disaster.

FOOD CRISIS – There isn’t enough food and water

A combination of drought, rising food prices, poverty, natural disasters, conflicts, global food prices, disease, and complex emergencies. A food crisis develops when families experience these stresses for several years and run out of ways to cope, and governments and aid agencies fail to intervene.

FAMINE – There isn’t enough food and water for people to stay alive

Severe and widespread shortage of food, that results in large-scale starvation, malnourishment and death. Leads to disease outbreaks and economic and social collapse of the community.
Famine is more of a manmade disaster than a drought, and therefore more easily preventable than a drought.

How do we measure malnutrition in children?

One way to measure malnutrition in children is to use a middle-upper-arm-circumference tool (MUAC). There are 3 different colour zones on the armband, each representing a nutritional status.

The photo here shows a health worker measuring Alhousanne, a 6-month-old girl in Niger.

Alhousanne's measurement from the MUAC showed red (at only 9cm), indicating that she was severely malnourished. Her skin had become unresponsive to touch. Her mother Rakia was very worried and clearly malnourished herself. At only 17 with three children already, it is obvious that this isn't just the failed harvest that has caused this. Childhood marriage and motherhood have contributed to poor maternal nutrition. Her babies were born very small and she struggles to feed them.

Click here for further information on global hunger situation.

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