Famine and health
High risk countries
Famine has been declared in parts of South Sudan and the food security situation is of grave concern in 6 other countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Uganda, and Yemen. Very high levels of severe acute malnutrition have been reported in the the most affected countries.
Between starvation and death, there is nearly always disease
Health is a key component in the response to famine. When there is a severe lack of food many people will die of starvation, but between starvation and death there is nearly always disease. When people don't have enough food to eat, acute malnutrition sets in and weakens the immune system.
When a person's immune system is weak, it becomes more susceptible to diseases that can be fatal.
Immediate public health risks
Severe food shortages are often associated with factors which increase the risk of communicable diseases, such as population displacement, lack of safe food and water, poor sanitation, overcrowding, collapse of preventive public health measures such as immunization and vector control, and lack of access to basic health services.
Integrated Phase Classification Acute Food Insecurity
The UN, in collaboration with partners, developed a 5-level classification system to help governments and humanitarian actors assess and respond to the need for food in a given country. Famine, classified as level 5, is a humanitarian catastrophe that occurs when the following conditions are met:
- 20% of population face extreme food shortages with limited ability to cope
- acute malnutrition rates exceed 30% for children under 5
- 2 deaths per 10 000 people, or 4 deaths per 10 000 children per day
Many other factors are considered in the Classification including pandemic illness, access to clean water, large-scale displacement, and social collapse.
Necessary immediate medical interventions include the medical management of severe undernutrition, but also the detection and control of deadly diseases such as measles, acute respiratory infections, malaria, diarrhoea and waterborne diseases.