“We are now in the 21st century and the current situation is an absolute shame on humanity.” When asked about the current humanitarian disaster taking place in parts of Africa and the Middle East, Wolfgang Jamann, the leader of CARE, an international human rights organization, shows no hesitation in displaying his frustrations. What the United Nations labels as “the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II,” is not taking place in Syria, but instead in the four nations of Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, and South Sudan. The UN estimates that more than 20 million people within these four countries live in extreme starvation. Certainly, these are shocking numbers, but what is even more unsettling and is the cause for Jamann’s frustration, is the lack of response from the international community. Despite the warnings from the UN and many other humanitarian organizations, A poll by the International Rescue Committee found that 85 percent of Americans remain improperly informed about the crisis. With the majority of mainstream news outlets dedicating their coverage regarding the dealings of the Trump administration, a disturbingly insufficient amount of airtime has been given to the most dire humanitarian crisis of our generation.
The extreme hunger within the four nations have been a result of man made actions. In South Sudan, a three-year civil war has led to great distress and suffering from the civilian population. While it may be the world’s youngest country, South Sudan proves to be one of the world’s most unstable countries as many are fleeing the country in order to survive. The civil war has led to the greatest refugee crisis in Africa, causing about three million people to flee the country. With that said, there has been some positive news lately since last month the United Nations said the country no longer has famine, but officials warn that the crisis is far from over since many people still face starvation and malnutrition while the civil war continues. In the northeastern region of Nigeria, the presence of the extremist group Boko Haram has displaced millions of people from their homes. While the Boko Haram regime has greatly weakened over the previous few years, many people in Nigeria still live in poverty and are denied access to education as a result of the presence of the militant Islamist group.
Another nation suffering under the control of a terrorist group is Somalia. Al-Shabaab is a militant Islamist group affiliated with al-Qaeda that controls parts of Somalia. As the country faces its worst drought in 40 years, over half the country is in need of humanitarian aid according to The Guardian. However, Al-Shabaab has banned all humanitarian groups from assisting any Somali citizens under their control. In an interview with CNN, a Somali mother, Fatumata Hassan, says, “Al-Shabaab blocks the roads, there is no access for food aid, the Shabaab steal food as well.” In Somalia, about two million people live under the control of Al-Shabaab. The group has cut off food supply from outside organizations and threatens anyone who communicates with humanitarian groups to face brutal punishment. This is all an effort to protect the Islamist group from airstrike attacks by essentially keeping the civilians as captives. According to The Guardian, US President Donald Trump has designated Somalia “a zone of active hostages” which gives commanders more authority when conducting airstrikes but also loosens restrictions that are put in place to prevent civilian casualties. While efforts by the U.S. and Somali President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, have somewhat beefed up to weaken Al-Shabaab, there is still much more needed to be done to resolve the current crisis in Somalia. The International Organization for Migration states that if “action is not taken immediately, early warning signals point towards a growing humanitarian crisis in Somalia of potentially catastrophic proportions.”
However, the situation within Yemen is considered to be the most concerning. In 2015, the Middle East’s richest nation, Saudi Arabia declared war on Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest nation and the results have been devastating. Saudi Arabia’s airstrikes on Yemen’s transportation routes and food supply centres has led to widespread starvation in a country that imports nearly 90 percent of its food. Saudi Arabia has also bombed many civilian occupied areas as well resulting in the majority of the 20,000 Yemeni people who have died in the war to be civilians. And, it is believed that about 80 percent of Yemen’s total population of 25 million people have been affected by the war, with the United Nations estimating that 17 million people are food insecure.
Recently, Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia which resulted in a $110 billion arms deal, one of the most lucrative deals of its kind in history. While the U.S. has always supported the Saudis beginning with the Obama administration, the U.S. begun to scale back on its support when discovering the number of civilian casualties caused by Saudi military action in Yemen. However, this new arms deal endorsed by Trump and his supporters as a move that will trigger job growth may receive major backlash. The deal may lead to American weapons being utilized to kill civilians, and also shows that America is indirectly supporting a war that has led to countless war crimes and human rights violations. Many also fear that the war also leaves an opportunity for al-Qaeda and other extremist groups to grow within Yemen, due to the great instability of the region. In a briefing of the United Nation’s Security Council given by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN’s Special Envoy for Yemen said, “I am deeply concerned by the continued targeting of civilians… As I have stated here many times, the longer the conflict lasts, the more the terrorist groups will expand and threaten Yemen’s future.”
The results of Saudi Arabia’s war with Yemen have been catastrophic, and Jamann says that “60 percent of the country is food insecure and over half the population is unable to access safe drinking water.” Compounding an already dire situation is the current outbreak of cholera spreading rapidly throughout the western region of Yemen. Cholera is a disease usually contracted by consuming contaminated food or water that causes diarrhea and if left untreated can cause severe dehydration and even death. For developed countries such as the U.S., cholera is a disease which is easily preventable, as WebMD states that there are only about 10 cases annually. However, Al Jazeera reports that in this year alone, over 600,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with cholera in Yemen, with small children being the most high-risk group. In Yemen, almost all of the medical facilities have shut down, and the nation faces a severe doctor shortage since most have fled the country.
Obviously, there are no simple solutions to any of the situations occurring within these four nations. With that being said, this crisis will persist if the international community continues to neglect the suffering of those living inside these areas plagued with poverty and hunger. Currently, there is a massive funding gap. In the beginning of this year, the UN requested for $6.1 billion to aid their humanitarian efforts within the four countries. As of May this year, only 36 percent of that goal has been reached. The consequences of these funding shortages are disturbing. According to the Washington Post, a Yemeni child dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes, approximately 300,000 children across Somalia are facing severe malnutrition in Somalia, and in South Sudan, 3,000 people everyday flee the country.
President Trump has also proposed to cut over 40 percent of America’s budget dedicated to fighting famine, which could be devastating to those who need it most. While the political disputes affecting these countries may be out of our control to fix, as an individual the most important thing one can do is to spread awareness. While this proposition may seem to be somewhat dull and cliche, it must be noted that the only way that relief can be provided is if humanitarian organizations have the proper funding. As of now, most Americans are unaware of this crisis and the mainstream western media appears to be almost entirely neglecting the issue at hand. Also, an increase of awareness would also bring greater pressure to politicians and hold governments more accountable for their (lack of) actions.
With no real ending in sight of the current humanitarian crisis, many fear that the futures of the countries affected are in great danger. Millions of malnourished children mean that an entire generation of people would be irreversibly scarred. Instead of going to school and receiving an education, millions of kids instead have to fight for their lives. For those who do survive, many will have to live in a world with no education or tools to advance economically. Many fear that extremist groups could take advantage of this and expand their influences within these economically unstable regions. Despite their lack of resources, the little help that humanitarian organizations have been able to give has provided great relief. However, too many people have needlessly suffered and died thanks to the negligence from the outside world. The international community needs to step up and take greater action in order to prevent this situation from spiralling out of control since if it does do so, we will all be responsible for it.
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