More than 8.7 million people are in need of food aid in Somalia and South Sudan, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Another year of low rainfall has devastated agricultural yields, and ongoing conflicts have caused widespread displacement, harming people’s livelihoods and disrupting domestic economies. South Sudan, in particular, is in the grip of a brutal civil war that has displaced an estimated 7 million people.
The burgeoning crises also reflect the looming challenges posed by climate change as it intensifies and prolongs droughts, inflames regional conflicts, and plunges communities deeper into poverty.
The IRC, along with other humanitarian agencies and regional governments, are working to deliver food supplies to mitigate the hunger crisis.
The World Food Program, for example, assists 2.7 million people in South Sudan with food assistance, and the UN agency plans to ramp up its efforts to reach 5.1 million people by December.
“It is famine-like, but you cannot call it famine, because you can only call [it] famine if you have a certain number of criteria,” said Hervé Verhoosel, a WFP spokesperson, in a statement. “We are not at that number, that level, to use the word famine ... but they live in conditions that are equivalent to a famine, if there was many more.”
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The IRC is particularly concerned about the health consequences of children going hungry, who are at risk of stunting and other harms related to malnutrition.
“As food insecurity continues to ravage East Africa, now more than ever, innovative solutions to hunger and malnutrition are needed,” Dr. Mesfin Teklu Tessema, senior director of health at the IRC, said in a statement. “The humanitarian sector must adopt simplified approaches that expand access to treatment and build capacity at the community level so more children can get the help they deserve.”
In South Sudan, more than 1 million people experience chronic hunger largely because a severe drought has undermined the ability of farmers to produce food. The UN allocated $45 million from its emergency relief fund to curb hunger in the region.
“Communities that were already vulnerable due to past droughts are again facing severe hunger and water scarcity and are at risk from deadly communicable diseases,” Mark Lowcock, under-secretary-general and emergency relief coordinator at the United Nations, said in a statement.
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Other nearby countries, including Ethiopia, are also dealing with the mounting costs of drought. The country recently made school lunch free to help the more than 1 million children who have to sit through class hungry on a daily basis.