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What it is, and how we help

What is famine?

A famine is a food crisis in which the scarcity of food is so severe and widespread that it causes large-scale starvation, malnutrition and death.

A food crisis happens when communities experience a significant shortage of food. It can become a famine - but before a famine is declared, a country’s situation must be assessed using a set of common international standards, using the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification.

How is a food crisis measured? 

 Food insecurity is measured in a scale of five phases:

  • IPC-1 is minimal.
  • IPC-3 is a crisis.  
  • IPC-5 is classified famine.

It often takes a long time for famine to be declared in the news and that’s because famine is the worst-case scenario. 

What does famine actually mean? 

Reaching IPC-5, or famine, means all of the following:

  • At least one in five households faces an extreme lack of food
  • More than 30 percent of children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition
  • At least two people out of every 10,000 are dying each day

Why do food shortages lead to crisis?

Poor nutrition - brought on by food shortages - reduces people's resistance to disease, and makes outbreaks of preventable diseases likely. Water shortages, which force people to use polluted water, increase the risk of waterborne diseases, like cholera. Food insecurity also drives populations to other areas to find better conditions. Large settlements of displaced people can form which again increases the risk of disease outbreak.

How Save the Children respond

In general, when responding to famine/food insecurity Save the Children will:

Food and Health

Deliver emergency food and provide basic health services - with a focus on nutritional support such as supplying children with Plumpy Nut.


WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene)

Ensure drinking water is safe to drink through the rehabilitation of water points.

Improve hygiene conditions by constructing latrines and distributing hygiene kits that include items like; soap, buckets with a tap, jerry cans and water purification tablets.



Run programmes to help preserve and restore the livelihoods of families affected by drought. For example, we may distribute seeds, tools and fertilizer to help families whose crops have been destroyed.

East Africa Food Crisis 2017

Lokeno, 1, is treated for severe acute malnutrition by a Save the Children health worker, at a stabilisation centre in South Sudan.

Lokeno, 1, is treated for severe acute malnutrition by a Save the Children health worker, at a stabilisation centre in South Sudan.

In 2017, the lives of hundreds of thousands of children were at stake when a devastating food crisis swept through large parts of East Africa. Famine was widely predicted in Somalia amidst fears that the situation could spiral out of control in a manner reminiscent of 2011, when a quarter of a million people lost their lives. 

However, thanks to the incredible response of the international community, famine was averted in Somalia. When famine was declared in parts of Unity State, South Sudan, the international response helped to bring it under control when there was a real risk of it spreading across the state and much of the country.

In Somalia, we screened children for malnutrition and provided the treatment they needed to recover. We also ensured that communities have access to safe drinking water and essential hygiene and sanitation items to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases.

In Kenya, we made sure families can access safe drinking water through water trucking and rehabilitated water points.

In Ethiopia, we’re continuing to provide families with livelihood support such as animal feed to help pasture regeneration and milk productivity to help feed their families and generate an income.

A wave of Severe Acute Malnutrition aka S.A.M is once again sweeping East Africa, putting 1.7 million children's lives at risk. 

Is there a cure to hunger? Yeah – and it costs peanuts.

£30 can pay for a child's six-week course of Plumpy Nut, a high nutrient peanut paste which stops S.A.M. in its tracks.

Please donate to the East Africa Hunger Crisis