Red Cross warns: 60 million people at risk of acute hunger in sub-Saharan Africa as El Niño strengthens

Published: 5 October 2015

Dakar/Gaborone/Geneva – 5 October 2015: An estimated 60 million people across sub-Saharan Africa, a population roughly equal to the size of the United Kingdom, do not have enough to eat this year and indications are strong that the food production situation is set to further deteriorate. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is warning that increased support is needed now to alleviate hunger, and to prepare for worsening conditions for farmers.

“The regularity with which we see food insecurity in Africa has left many people apathetic. But the crisis currently facing millions of families is not inevitable and should not be acceptable,” said Michael Charles, IFRC acting regional representative in southern Africa. “There are many things that we can do to stop this food crisis in its tracks and alleviate the impact on vulnerable people, but we need international support to make this happen.”

A series of climatic shocks in 2014 and 2015 decimated harvests, leaving many people dependent on food aid to survive. Floods and drought in southern Africa resulted in significant declines in maize production, the regional staple. Erratic rainfall, failed crops and violence in the Sahel and eastern Africa have compromised the livelihoods of many farming communities.

But the worst is yet to come. The El Niño climate phenomenon, characterized by a warming in the Pacific Ocean, is set to strengthen over the coming months and persist into 2016. When El Niño occurs, rainfall patterns shift, increasing the risk of extreme weather events. The Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre predicts a higher likelihood of flood conditions developing in equatorial Africa, and increased risk of drought in parts of southern Africa and the Sahel region.

“Many families are surviving on one meal a day made from leaves, which have very little nutritional value. Or, they are even going without food for days because of the erratic rainfall,” said Miriam Grove, IFRC operations manager, The Sahel. “These people need urgent assistance. If we can help them now, we can maintain their nutritional status and give them the tools and seeds necessary to survive worsening conditions next year.”

To meet the immediate needs of 205,000 of the most vulnerable, IFRC has launched six emergency appeals across six countries: Gambia, Mauritania, Malawi, Namibia, Senegal, and Zimbabwe. Totalling almost 8 million Swiss francs, the appeals combine immediate food relief with disaster preparedness initiatives that will equip communities to cope with further climatic shocks. Across the continent, the Red Cross Red Crescent is also investing in long-term food security programmes for millions of people that help build resilience to climatic shocks.

Without increased support, the prospect for many affected people is bleak. Malnutrition is already high in sub-Saharan Africa. UNICEF reports that 37 per cent of children in the region are stunted, which is indicative of long-term nutritional problems. Further decreases in the availability of nutritious food may be life-threatening for children, people living with HIV, and other vulnerable groups.

“The economic strain of food insecurity on families also leads people to adopt negative coping mechanisms to feed themselves,” added Charles. “Parents pull their children from school and make them work. Women trade for sex, putting themselves at risk of HIV. Farmers sell their livestock, leaving them without the animals needed to work their land. Addressing the food crisis now, and ensuring sustainable funding for longer-term food security programmes, will prevent people from falling into deeper cycles of vulnerability. This is our window of opportunity to act.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the worlds largest volunteer-based humanitarian network, reaching 150 million people each year through its 189 member National Societies. Together, IFRC acts before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people. It does so with impartiality as to nationality, race, gender, religious beliefs, class and political opinions. For more information, please visit You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. 

Note to editors

The Sahel 

  • According to the Regional Harmonized Framework of March 2015, 23,052,000 people in the Sahel are in the under-pressure phase of food insecurity; 4,749,000 people are in crisis phase.


  • In The Gambia, more than 1.6 million people are food insecure, following a 24 per cent reduction in cereal production. The IFRC is seeking 1,570,943 Swiss francs to assist 63,100 people who are among the most vulnerable, in both the immediate and long term. The appeal is currently 7 per cent funded.


  • In Mauritania, a rainfall deficit has decimated crop production and negatively impacted the livestock sector. In January 2015, 23.8 per cent of households were food insecure with 723,000 people in the under-pressure phase, and an additional 260,000 people in crisis. The IFRC has launched an Emergency Appeal of 998,467 Swiss francs to support 37,400 of the most vulnerable with immediate or longer term support. The appeal is currently 4 per cent funded.
  • In March 2015, 2.3 million people in Senegal were considered under-pressure in regards to food insecurity, and a further 639,702 people in crisis. These figures were projected to increase to 3,147,370 people under-pressure, and 1,039,550 people in crisis by August. The IFRC Emergency Appeal of 2.5 million Swiss francs aims to assist 72,000 people with immediate and longer term support. The appeal is currently 6 per cent funded.

Southern Africa 

  • An estimated 27.4 million people in the Southern African Development Community will not have enough to eat in 2015 following a series of climatic shocks in 2014 and 2015. These people will be dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive.
  • More than 2.8 million people are food insecure in Malawi, following a 30 per cent reduction in the maize harvest. IFRC is appealing for 768,264 Swiss francs to provide food and livelihood support for 10,000 of the most vulnerable people.
  • In Namibia, more than half a million people are severely affected by drought and food insecurity. IFRC is appealing for 950,205 Swiss francs to support 11,500 severely affected people for seven months, with a focus on water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, food security, nutrition and livelihoods.
  • IFRC is appealing for to 832,086 Swiss francs to provide food, safe water and livelihoods support for farmers in Zimbabwe, where 1.5 million people will not have enough to meet their basic nutritional needs during the lean season from November to February.




For further information, please contact:


In Gaborone:

  •    Kate Seymour, Communications officer, IFRC southern Africa

         Mobile: +267 713 953 34 E-mail:


In Addis Ababa:

  • Katherine Mueller, Communications manager, IFRC Africa

Mobile: +251 930 03 3413 E-mail: 


In Geneva:

  • Benoit Carpentier, Team leader, public communications, IFRC

   Mobile: +41 792 132 413 E-mail: