The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War with more than 20 million people in four countries facing starvation and famine, a senior United Nations official has warned.
Without collective and coordinated global efforts, “people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease,” Stephen O’Brien, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council in New York on March 10th.
He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid “to avert a catastrophe.”
O’Brien said the largest humanitarian crisis was in Yemen where two-thirds of the population – 18.8 million people – need aid and more than seven million people are hungry and did not know where their next meal would come from. Yemen is engulfed in conflict as Saudi Arabia and Iran wage a proxy war in the Arab world’s poorest nation.
A man-made disaster is unfolding in the world’s newest country where three years of civil war have brought famine and forced nearly two-thirds of its 11 million people to depend on humanitarian aid.
A leaked UN report has concluded that the famine in South Sudan is largely due to the “cumulative toll” of government military operations and restrictions on relief operations. The famine is concentrated in the opposition-controlled region.
Less than six years ago, South Sudan won independence from the Sudanese dictatorship and seemed to have a bright future with large oil reserves. Instead it has collapsed into deadly anarchy and is on the verge of genocide. Tens of thousands of civilians have died. Half of the government’s budget is reportedly spent on weapons and soldiers. And now the government is using its chokehold on relief supply routes to starve and control its opponents.
UN officials have reported that government soldiers are blocking the roads into regions needing aid, demanding money and forcing dozens of relief convoys to turn back, and sometimes even attacking them. The UN has been forced to drop its food aid from airplanes, at a far higher cost than land routes.
Now 100,000 people are officially in famine conditions and another million are on the brink. The government is demanding $10,000 (U.S.) for every work permit for a foreign aid worker. (The fee was previously $100.) At least 79 aid workers have been killed since the war began.
South Sudan is now home to the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, with 1.6 million of its people fleeing into Uganda and elsewhere. Yet the government refuses to acknowledge any crisis.
Several members of the UN Security Council have proposed international sanctions and an arms embargo to pressure the government. But when the United States pushed for an arms embargo last December, eight of the 15 council members abstained and the proposal failed.
The UN is also pushing for a Regional Protection Force to provide greater security in the country, but the South Sudan government has so far thwarted it. Some independent analysts suggest removing the entire government and putting South Sudan under an international trusteeship.
Somalia is facing its second famine in less than six years. According to UN figures, 6.2 million Somalis are currently in need of humanitarian assistance – half that country’s population. Lack of rain and constant conflict have worsened the situation there.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited Somalia on Feb. 21st, where he said the situation was complicated. He said the combination of hunger, fatal diseases, drought and the continuing struggle to defeat al-Shabab terrorists and to create conditions under which peace could be established “has had a devastating impact on the economy and in the lives of Somalis.” People are suffering enormously, he said, and there is “a clear need of support from the international community.”
The UN refugee agency UNHCR is seeking at least $800 million to avert the crisis in Somalia. Famine, drought and instability continue to be a threat in the area. Somalia’s intense drought is the result of four seasons of inadequate rainfall. This lack of water has devastated crops and livestock, and in the worst affected areas families have no choice but to sell their possessions and borrow food and money to get by.
In north-east Nigeria, a seven-year uprising by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes. A UN humanitarian coordinator said last month that malnutrition in the north-east is so pronounced that some adults are too weak to walk and some communities have lost all their toddlers.
The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) has, through its memberships in the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFB) and ACT Alliance, sent a $30,000 gift to help provide aid to Somalia and has made a $20,000 contribution through the CFB for South Sudan. This is in addition to its contribution of $50,000 to the ACT Alliance appeal for South Sudan and Kenya. TAP
–With files from The Guardian, The Globe and Mail, the UN and the PWRDF