More than 20 million are at risk of famine across South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, with the UN stating the food crisis is the largest since 1945.
The famine is predominately man-made, following years of violent conflict and a problematic lack of humanitarian response in the four war-torn, poverty-stricken countries.
On Friday, UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council, that without significant coordinated global efforts, “people will simply starve to death,” and “many more will suffer and die from disease.”
The Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET) predicted in January that an estimated 70 million people worldwide who are affected by conflict or disasters will require food assistance in 2017. This number has almost doubled in the past two years.
Last week South Sudan declared a famine in the country’s south, where government forces and rebels have been conducting violent ethnic killings. Thousands have been displaced by civil war, which has disturbed crop sowing and triggered economic collapse.
“Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine – as are those not intervening to make the violence stop,” O’Brien said.
Somalia is predicted to be the next nation to declare famine, as food insecurity across eastern Africa reaches new heights.
Plan Australia’s Program Director Dave Husy told the ABC that “we’re looking at 40-50 per cent of the population facing acute food shortages, and a good proportion would be reaching a desperate state.”
“My expectation is there will be a declaration [of famine] within four to six weeks.”
Yemen is currently subject to a humanitarian blockade, operated by the Saudi-led coalition, and half a million children face severe acute malnutrition and ongoing conflict.
In northern Nigeria, the territories regained by the military following the Boko Haram insurgency have revealed 400,000 children suffering from malnutrition and in urgent need of critical assistance. In November 2016, UN humanitarian coordinator Peter Lundberg told The Guardian that 75,000 children risked dying within a few months.
A declaration of famine requires the fulfillment of specific scientific criteria, whereby 20 per cent of a population faces extreme food shortages, 30 per cent of people experience acute malnutrition, and at least two people per 10,000 die every day.
While each nation faces unique challenges that propel food insecurity, there is a common theme among all: violent, unremitting conflict.
However, the United Nations stated it has just 2 percent of the $5.6 billion it needs to prevent disaster.
It is now time for major aid donors, the G7, G20 and the World Bank, to band together and commit to cash transfer programs, delivered through the UN to the affected areas.
Importantly, O’Brien stated that such cases of famine are “all preventable.”
“It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines, to avert these human catastrophes,” he said.
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