This starvation in Africa is an affront to humanity

Blog post by Winnie Byanyima

Oxfam International, Executive Director
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We’re all shaken by the fact that our world stands on the brink of 4 famines. It is unprecedented in modern times. It should never have been allowed to happen. The UN says nearly 20 million people are at risk of starvation.

Nigel Timmins and I recently joined Oxfam staff and partners in northeast Nigeria, and South Sudan.

In Northeast Nigeria we visited people and the work we do in and around Maiduguri, and travelled to Gwoza and Pulka (towns that have been badly affected by the conflict, with much of Gwoza totally destroyed by Boko Haram; Pulka is still receiving people being displaced by the conflict for the first time). We spoke with parents who were receiving support, but did not have proper shelter or enough food for their children.

We saw how communities have been forced to flee their homes, leaving everything behind as they seek safety, food, clean water and more amid the ongoing conflict between Boko Haram and the government.

Oxfam rehabilitated two boreholes in Kushari, giving both local and displaced families access to safe and clean water.

In South Sudan we went to Malakal which used to be South Sudan’s second largest city, as well as the capital Juba.

In Malakal we saw widespread destruction. Homes, schools - almost every building was in ruin. We met  women who risk being attacked when they leave the protected area to find food or firewood for their families.

Upper Nile University used to be one of the highest regarded universities in South Sudan. It is now reduced to rubble like much of the town. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder

As an African: it pains me to see this happening on our continent. I feel great sadness, but also anger and humiliation.

Thousands of people are thought to have died already. Many of them are young children.

The cruelty of human-made crisis

As Nigel said: “These are human-made crises. They’re not inevitable. There is no reason, and no excuse in today’s world, for a mother to sleep outdoors on the ground with her children, with little food or water and fearing for their lives. This should not happen."

Governments must act. We need an injection of aid, backed by diplomatic courage to tackle the causes of these crises. State, national and international political leadership is needed now to address the immediate crisis and bring an end to the conflict.

Oxfam is doing what we can - delivering on the front-lines to those in need and pushing decision makers to act. I met with Oxfam staff who are working to help raise women’s voices and who are scaling up our response to support families to earn their own incomes and to return to farming.

This is a journey Nigel and I wish we had never had to make – but we are so glad we were able to see this crisis first-hand and meet these brave people. We will do our utmost to continue sharing what we have seen, and push decision-makers to avert catastrophic loss of life.

Winnie embraces a woman from a women’s group in the Protection of Civilians center in Malakal, South Sudan. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder

Cause for hope

And we must tell you: in the midst of such suffering, we had cause for hope.

We saw communities sharing what little they have with others in greater need. Wespoke with strong women and young people who are stepping up as leaders in their communities. We were greeted with warmth and gratitude by people who have been through so much, and have so little.

Political leaders and the international community can still – and must – avert catastrophic loss of life. We need an immediate and sweeping response.

We must end this betrayal of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

How you can help: Donate to Oxfam now


Winnie Byanyima meeting with leaders in Nigeria. Photo: Tom Saater/Oxfam

In northeast Nigeria, Winnie, Nigel and the team visited Oxfam’s programs in and around Maidaguri. Oxfam is responding to the crisis there by providing access to food through distributions and cash for people to use in local markets, clean water and sanitation and helping people to keep themselves safe. During the visit, they met with senior State Government leadership, including the Deputy Governor, the Secretary to the State Government and the State Attorney General. They discussed key issues including the stark number of people at risk of starvation in the state, improving coordination between the humanitarian community and the state government, government funding and leadership in the response and secondary displacement.

Photos 1, 2, 3, 6: Credit Tom Saater/Oxfam

Photos 4, 5: Credit Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam