Drought, Famine and Displacement


More than 20 million people across four countries risk facing starvation and water shortages within six months. Wars in Yemen, north eastern Nigeria and South Sudan have devastated livelihoods and collapsed economies, with famine already declared a reality in parts of South Sudan due to continuing conflict since 2013. In Somalia, a drought and a long-standing conflict is devastating the agriculture sector, ruining the country’s rural and urban economy, and bringing the country to the brink of famine. Conflict and violence in all four countries have impeded physical and economic access to food, particularly as a result of the disruption of livelihoods and markets, as well as distorted access to land and employment. These conditions have further fuelled internal displacement with a spill over effect to neighbouring countries. The number of South Sudanese seeking refuge in Ethiopia has risen significantly with a daily outflow of 660 people in March 2017, compared to 103 people in January 2017.

In 2017 demand for humanitarian aid has reached record high levels as several humanitarian crises continue to unfold. With the upsurge of crises in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan, and complex operations in Ukraine, Burundi, DRC, CAR, Niger, and Mali, the humanitarian system is struggling to meet rising humanitarian needs. UNOCHA estimates that more than $5.6 billion is needed this year by humanitarian operations in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen. As of March 22, the humanitarian response plans only received 13.9% of its required funding. While assistance and protection continue to be the key goals of humanitarian action, the current alarming funding gap in meeting the needs of people in Somalia, South Sudan, north-eastern Nigeria, and Yemen raises fear that the situation will deteriorate fast if the international community does not act quickly. Protection Clusters and sectors across all four operations are facing access constraints and severe funding shortages and their capacity to respond to growing needs is overstretched. The gravity of the situation requires life saving interventions by all actors. Timely financial support to ensure essential relief efforts and ward-off looming famine; as well as collective, concerted and coordinated global efforts to save the crisis-affected people from facing the risk of hunger and starvation, are needed.

Key messages 

  • The four famines illustrate the deadly combination of on-going conflict, denial of freedom of movement, poor governance, drought and rising food prices;
  • There is direct correlation between food scarcity and protection risks, particularly in situations of displacement;
  • The enormity of the crisis is exposing individuals to heightened protection risks that are life threatening;
  • Protection Clusters and sectors across all four operations are facing severe funding shortages and their capacity to respond to growing needs is overstretched;
  • To curb the severity and spread of the food crisis consorted and coordinated efforts from all actors are needed;
  • Facilitating access and scaling up humanitarian and protection assistance to the affected populations are urgently required. 


The four famines illustrate the deadly combination of on-going conflict, denial of freedom of movement, poor governance, drought and rising food prices IN ALL FOUR COUNTRIES, people were already facing serious threats to their physical safety and other life-threatening protection risks as a result of decades of conflict. The risk of hunger and famine have also caused protection risks or exacerbated existing ones, illustrating a direct correlation between food scarcity and conflict. Against a backdrop of dire humanitarian needs and a precarious security environment, the protection situation of women, men, and children in all four countries has worsened. Long-standing structural factors such as poor governance, denial of freedom of movement and expression including the right to receive information, as well as denial of access to humanitarian aid owing to insecurity, direct attacks on aid workers or restrictions on their activities are also immediate contributing factors.

Field Protection Clusters have been working in all four countries for a considerable period of time, documenting, reporting and responding to grave human rights violations, and publicising the situation of populations in danger, as well as undertaking a series of other actions designed not only to relieve the symptoms of abuse but also to put an end to it where possible. TODAY, as the impact of the famine and food insecurity intensifies, the affected population in all four countries, including women and children, are becoming more vulnerable and increasingly exposed to physical threats, family separation, further marginalisation, gender based violence including sexual abuse and exploitation, and attacks as they search for food, water and access to medical care.

Across all four countries, field Protection Clusters have documented that people are increasingly turning to negative coping mechanisms, including early marriage, child labour, transactional sex and forced onward movement, including across borders, due to extreme food insecurity as well as limited or lack of access to humanitarian assistance. The enormity of the crisis is clearly exposing individuals to marginalisation, life threatening protection risks, and leading to rising displacement. For example, in Somalia and South Sudan, food insecurity is increasing flows of displaced people within the country as well as to neighbouring countries.

The primary objectives of protection clusters in all four countries during this critical period are focused on raising awareness of protection risks and equal access to humanitarian assistance; enhancing the physical and psychological security of the affected population; addressing immediate physical needs and reducing negative coping mechanisms; minimising the threat of violence, coercion and deprivation as well as building local capacity to obtain safety and dignity for all those involved.


Evidence and lessons learnt from the past show that assistance activities constitute a direct complement to protection and vice versa. International law requires for humanitarian action to include both the protection of the affected population and their assistance and relief in order to work effectively towards the overall objective of protecting life, health and ensuring respect and dignity for the crisis-affected people. It is thus essential to ensure that key protection concerns are kept at the forefront of all humanitarian interventions and that response to the looming and existing famine include actions that prevent negative coping mechanisms and reduces risks experienced by vulnerable groups.


Despite the repeated highlighting of protection concerns, funding for activities to address some of the priority problems has been difficult to come by. In Nigeria, for example, the protection sector received only 12% of its funding requirement in 2016 and South Sudan received 26%. In Yemen, the protection cluster received 15% of its funding requirement in 2017 and Somalia received 7.4 %. Funding gaps in meeting the needs of people in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen raises fears that the situation may deteriorate fast if the international community does not act quickly. In all four countries, protection risks and concerns experienced by the affected population evidence strong links with health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene problems prompting the necessity for a coordinated and collective effort that holistically addresses immediate needs of those at risk. Humanitarian access, timely and predictable funding are essential to deliver life-saving protection interventions and programming. If action is taken now to address imminent and crucial humanitarian needs, looming famine can be prevented.


GPC Help Desk

The first point of contact for all Field Support requests and queries.

SEND REQUEST or

Protection Cluster
Coordination Toolbox