Senior United Nations officials on Thursday refocused the spotlight on Secretary-General António Guterres’ mid-February ‘call to action’ on behalf of some 20 million people across four countries that now face the risk of famine.
“The crises in these four countries are protracted and complex – and the impacts will be felt for years,” said Stephen O’Brien, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, warning that the numbers are staggering as millions in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and north-east Nigeria are slipping deeper into crisis.
The briefing was also addressed by Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“Some 1.4 million children are severely malnourished. Over 21 million people lack sufficient access to health care, at a time when three out of the four countries are experiencing cholera outbreaks. And more than 20 million people lack clean water and sanitation,” said Mr. O’Brien in a statement delivered by Reena Ghelani, Deputy Director, of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Coordination and Response Division.
“Around eighty per cent of affected populations live in rural areas and a combination of hunger and conflict is forcing people to be displaced, both internally and as refugees. Those who were forced from their homes in past years by conflict are being hit particularly hard as a consequence of this current crisis,” added the humanitarian coordinator.
He pointed out that the impacts of the protracted and complex crises in these four countries would be felt for years, citing broken communities, families torn apart and preventable deaths from disease.
“Famine,” Mr. O’Brien explained “is about much more than food insecurity. It is about compounding vulnerabilities that leave millions of people without basic human dignity, without hope for the future. It leaves children stunted and out of school. Development gains are stalled or reversed. People abandon their homes, and are robbed of their livelihoods, exacerbating instability across entire regions.”
He pointed out that while all four countries have unique contexts, they share the common component of protracted conflicts. Likewise, all four countries are marked by severe access constraints due to insecurity and some have costly bureaucratic impediments that impede the reach of life saving aid, and exacerbate the suffering of civilians.
He said that humanitarian operations in these four countries require more than $5.6 billion this year.
Underscoring the urgency, he added, “we need this funding now – especially for the priority sectors to respond and prevent famine in the four critical sectors of food security, nutrition, water and sanitation, and health.”