Famine should not happen in the modern era- anywhere. It can be prevented, but timing is everything.
Three years ago, with four separate regions of the world facing famine, a robust, albeit delayed, humanitarian response involving national and international organisations, UN agencies and governments helped to avert catastrophe.
That is not always the case.
The severe East African drought of 2011 - which led to the most devastating famines of the 21st century, with over a quarter of a million deaths, mostly in Somalia- could have been prevented if humanitarian access was guaranteed and the response was well-resourced and rapidly scaled up.
By the time famine is declared, it is, by definition, too late. Somalia was a horrific lesson in that regard, and the collective failure to prevent a famine at the time gave rise to additional warning systems and humanitarian programme modifications that seek to enable a ‘no-regrets’ approach to emergency nutrition.
Almost a decade on however, as the world’s attention is focused on COVID-19, and as access to populations has been further constrained by the pandemic, we are at risk of slipping into catastrophe by delaying a response at the scale that is necessary.
The wider issue driving these levels of hunger is conflict itself, something that still supersedes COVID-19 and even climate change in terms of its effect on hunger levels. After decades of progressive decline, global hunger has been rising since 2015 and a global surge in conflict is the main driver of this increase.