The world is facing its biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war, with 20m people facing starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, the UN has warned.
UN’s humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien, told the Security Council on Friday evening that $4.4bn was needed in the next four months to address the escalating situation.
“Without collective and co-ordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death,” he said. “Many more will suffer and die from disease.
“Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.”
The UN last month declared a famine in parts of South Sudan, which has been wracked by civil war for more than three years. But Mr O’Brien said the most serious crisis was in Yemen, where two-thirds of the population, some 18.8m people, need assistance and more than 7m are facing starvation.
“That is 3m people more than in January,” he said, adding that in the last two months almost 50,000 people had fled fighting between forces loyal to the government and Houthi rebels.
It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines, to avert these looming human catastrophes
Some 6.2m people need help in Somalia, of whom 2.9m are in dire need, 4.9m in South Sudan and 1.8m in north-eastern Nigeria.
Kenya and Ethiopia are among other countries suffering severe droughts but their governments have a better capacity to cope.
Famine is declared when daily mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people and 30 per cent of children suffer from acute malnutrition, among other criteria.
Mr O’Brien stressed that the looming catastrophe was “man-made” and “preventable”.
“It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines, to avert these looming human catastrophes,” he said, stressing that the warring parties in South Sudan were making little effort to alleviate the situation
The international community has started reacting to the threat of famine much more quickly than in the last such crisis, when 260,000 people died in Somalia in 2012. Many agencies, particularly UN bodies, have started spending pledged money before it has been disbursed by using their own reserves.
António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said this week after visiting Somalia that the situation was deteriorating. He described how he saw children dying from acute watery diarrhoea and cholera.
He said that systems were in place to avert the worst of the looming crisis, if money and aid are delivered.
However, Save the Children UK warned on Friday that despite a better response than in 2012 some of the mistakes made then were being repeated. Kevin Watkins, Save the Children’s chief executive, singled out inadequate planning and a slow response from donors.
The UN has received only about 10 per cent of the money it has sought since launching appeals last month for the drought-affected countries.
Mr O’Brien said that if money is not committed soon, not only will many people die but many children who survive will be stunted by severe malnutrition, gains in economic development will be reversed and “livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost”.
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