WE EXPLAIN | Mass famine: how to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe?

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Массовый голод: как предотвратить гуманитарную катастрофу?

Women feed their children at a feeding center in South Sudan. WE EXPLAIN | Mass famine: how to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe? Health

There is growing concern around the world about spikes in hunger as a result of conflict and food insecurity.

Arif Hussein, Chief Economist of the World Food Program (WFP), spoke to UN News Service about famine and analysis of food security data in conjunction with the release of updated Integrated Food Security Phase Classification data for Gaza.

Famine Threshold

The term “mass famine” is used when a population is faced with widespread malnutrition and famine-related mortality due to lack of access to food.

According to Hussein, the WFP believes that mass famine occurs when three conditions combine in a certain geographical area, be it a city, a village or an entire country:

  • At least 20 percent of the population in this area faces extreme levels of hunger;
  • 30 percent of children are wasted or too thin for their height;
  • Death rate is twice the average – more than two deaths per 10,000 people per day among adults and four deaths per 10,000 people per day among children.

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Массовый голод: как предотвратить гуманитарную катастрофу?

Mother and child in Bati, Ethiopia (1984).

“As you can see, in a sense, mass famine is an admission of collective failure,” Hussein said. “We must act long before such a situation occurs.”

Observation System

The famine of today is different from the famine of 1970 1980s or 1980s, when drought was the main cause of the phenomenon in Ethiopia and other countries, the WFP chief economist said. famine, people could say that they did not know that this could happen, and “if they had known, they would have done something about it.”

“Today we see the development of crises in real time, so it cannot be said that we did not know anything,” Hussein explained.

Currently, famine and the risks of its development are mainly driven by conflict, as happened in South Sudan, Yemen, and now in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In the 21st century, mass famine climate-related events are largely under control thanks to an innovative tool for tracking acute malnutrition.

This is the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IFCI).

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Массовый голод: как предотвратить гуманитарную катастрофу?

A family in Yemen received WFP food assistance.

What is IPC?

The Integrated Phase Classification is an innovative multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at improving information analysis and decision-making in the field of food security and

This classification and analytical approach helps governments, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, civil society and other actors work together to determine the severity and extent of acute and chronic food insecurity and malnutrition in the country according to recognized standards.

Originally developed in 2004 for use in Somalia, the system is now used in more than 30 countries, and 19 international organizations are collaborating to develop and implement ICF at the global, regional and country levels.

ICF monitors data on hunger, but can also warn of potentially widespread malnutrition before the situation becomes more serious.

How ICF Works?

Information comes from humanitarian partners on the ground and covers food security, nutrition, mortality and livelihoods issues, as well as data on caloric intake, people’s coping strategies and shoulder circumference measurements in children for malnutrition monitoring.

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Массовый голод: как предотвратить гуманитарную катастрофу?

The UN continues to provide food aid to Ethiopia.

“Data collection does not stop even in war zones,” noted Hussein.

In areas inaccessible to humanitarian organizations, surveys using mobile phones are used , and if this is not possible, information can be obtained from satellites.

Technical experts process large volumes of data so that decision makers can take into account all available information.

Experts distinguish five categories of the population’s situation: the first phase – minimal stress about nutrition or its absence; in the second phase, people face difficulties in finding food; third phase – food crisis; fourth phase – emergency situation; the fifth phase is considered a catastrophic famine.

Depending on the proportion of people experiencing each of the five phases in a particular geographic area, locations are also assigned a severity phase: minimal, stress, crisis, emergency situation and mass famine.

The phase classification of geographic areas influences the setting of priorities and goals when developing and implementing response measures.

Committee on to review the famine situation

The committee, composed of internationally recognized experts, is convened when more than 20 percent of the population is experiencing the fifth phase of the IPC, that is, catastrophic conditions.

It examines all the data to determine whether the conclusions about the presence of mass famine are reliable and whether the classification is justified. The process requires that all Committee members agree on the conclusion.

Experts analyze the current situation and make forecasts for the next three to six months.

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Массовый голод: как предотвратить гуманитарную катастрофу?

Drought in Somalia has left more than two million people facing water and food shortages.

Response Measures

Humanitarian organizations use the classification to plan and provide assistance to people starting with the third phase, with the specific goal of avoiding the fifth phase of mass famine. This includes, for example, scaling up food aid.

WFP estimates that humanitarian needs today remain high, with 309 million people in 72 countries facing crisis levels of hunger or worse.

Hussein emphasized that the main thing is to prevent large-scale starvation.

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Массовый голод: как предотвратить гуманитарную катастрофу?

Families with children await malnutrition screening in Haiti.

“If we want to avoid mass starvation, the best way would be to stop conflicts,” he said, “but if that takes time, then we must feed civilians, provide them with water and basic necessities.” .

New report on Gaza: threat of mass famine

At the end of 2023, the Famine Review Committee prepared their first report on Gaza, and on March 18, experts published new data on the deteriorating situation in the strip.

Israel’s ground invasion has killed more than 31,000 residents of the enclave, and has led to restrictions on humanitarian aid and a growing number of deaths from starvation.

ОБЪЯСНЯЕМ | Массовый голод: как предотвратить гуманитарную катастрофу?

Screening for malnutrition at a UNICEF-supported clinic in Rafah, Gaza.

Since February 2024, Gaza’s entire population – 2.2 million people – has been classified as being at crisis level (phase three) or worse, which is “the highest proportion of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity that the ICF has ever recorded in all regions and countries.”

Here are some of the main findings of the report:

  • The conditions necessary to prevent famine were not met. In the northern provinces, widespread famine is projected to occur any time between mid-March and May 2024.
  • Currently, 88 percent of Gazans face four or more high phase of food insecurity, which is emergency level or worse.
  • Among these, about 50 percent (1.1 million people) are in phase five or catastrophe level.
  • In northern Gaza, rates of acute child malnutrition are expected to exceed the mass famine threshold (30 percent), with the prevalence of wasting rising sharply from 0.8 to 15 percent within several months.
  • The upward trend in non-injury mortality is projected to accelerate, pushing the threshold of mass starvation past May 2024.
  • The increased vulnerability of children, pregnant and lactating women, and the elderly is of particular concern.
  • Forecasts for the period from March to July show that 100 percent of Gaza’s population, or 2.2 million people, will face crisis levels of food insecurity.


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