UN: World Facing 'Greatest Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945'
March 12, 2017
BBC World News & Alastair Leithead / BBC News
The world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, according to Stephen O'Brien, the United Nation's humanitarian chief. More than 20 million people face the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria. Without coordinated global efforts, more than 20 million people face starvation and famine. UNICEF has warned 1.4 million children could starve to death this year. $4.4 billion is needed by July to avert disaster.
UN: World Facing 'Greatest Humanitarian Crisis Since 1945'
BBC World News
(March 10, 2017) -- The world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, the United Nation's humanitarian chief said as he pleaded for help to avoid "a catastrophe".
Stephen O'Brien said more than 20 million people face the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria. UNICEF has already warned 1.4m children could starve to death this year.
Mr. O'Brien said $4.4 billion (£3.6 billion) was needed by July to avert disaster. "We stand at a critical point in history," Mr. O'Brien told the Security Council on Friday. "Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations."
"Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease.
A Somali woman attends to her malnourished child outside their makeshift shelter at a temporary camp
"Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities' resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed. Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions."
Mr. O'Brien's comments follow on from a similar appeal made by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last month. At that time, he revealed the UN had only received $90m (£74 million) so far in 2017, despite generous pledges.
Like Mr. O'Brien, he urged more financial support for the four countries. But why are they in such dire need?
Five-year-old Mohannad Ali sits in hospital in Yemen in December. His younger cousin -- aged just two -- died of hunger. UNICEF
The pictures were among the most shocking of last year: emaciated children, clinging on to life with what little strength they had left. Four-year-olds not bigger than infants. And mothers unable to do anything to stop their children dying.
It is thought a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from a preventable disease, while half a million children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
The UN estimates some 19 million people -- or two thirds of Yemen's population -- is in need of some sort of humanitarian help following two years of war between Houthi insurgents and the government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition.
UN: $4.4 billion needed to prevent 'catastrophe' of famine
UN agencies say 100,000 people are facing starvation in South Sudan, while a further million are classified as being on the brink of famine. It is the most acute of the present food emergencies, and the most widespread nationally.
Overall, says the UN, 4.9 million people -- or 40% of South Sudan's population -- are "in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance".
Starvation could kill more people than Boko Haram
The UN has described the unfolding disaster in northeastern Nigeria as the "greatest crisis on the continent" -- the full extent of which has only been revealed as extremist militant group Boko Haram is pushed back.
It was already known the Islamist group had killed 15,000 and pushed more than two million from their homes. But as they retreated, it became clear there were thousands more people living in famine-like conditions in urgent need of help.
The UN estimated in December there were 75,000 children at risk of starving to death. Another 7.1 million people in Nigeria and the neighbouring Lake Chad area are considered "severely food insecure".
A man feeds his child at a field hospital run by the International Rescue Mission
The last time a famine was declared in Somalia -- just six years ago -- nearly 260,000 people died. At the beginning of March, there were reports of 110 people dying in just one region in a 48-hour period.
Humanitarian groups fear this could be just the beginning: a lack of water -- blamed partially on the El Nino weather phenomenon -- has killed off livestock and crops, leaving 6.2 million people in urgent need of help.
South Sudan Conflict:
The Hungry Emerge from Swampland for Aid
Alastair Leithead / BBC News
LEER COUNTRY, South Sudan (February 26, 2017) -- Three years of civil war in South Sudan have driven thousands of families into the marshes of the Nile to hide from the fighting. A famine has been declared some parts. The BBC's Alastair Leithead has been to the rebel-held town Thonyor in Leer County, where people have been told to gather to get help.
They emerged from the marshlands of the Nile in their thousands, as word spread that help had come. Forced by fighting to live on the isolated islands of the Sudd swamps, they have been surviving for months on wild plants.
Now they sat on the dry, cracked earth in long lines under a brutal sun -- mostly women and children -- waiting to register for the food aid which would be air-dropped in a few days time.
"We are only surviving by eating wild honey and water lilies from the river," said Nyambind Chan Kuar as she sat with 16 of her children and grandchildren. "The fighting has been disastrous -- children have been killed, they are taking our things, our cattle, our goats, taking everything, even though we have nothing to do with this war."
Each person is given a card that entitles them to 30 days of food rations when supplies arrive. Their finger is then stained with ink to avoid duplication.
"People are dying because of this hunger," said Mary Nyayain. "That's why we are here queuing for these tokens."
The town of Thonyor in Leer County was chosen as the central point for distributing aid after long negotiations with both sides in the civil war. It's one of the four counties in Unity State suffering pockets of famine, which the latest hunger assessment says is affecting 100,000 people.
Leer is the birthplace of the former vice-president turned rebel leader Riek Machar which is perhaps why it has been the centre of so much fighting.
Thonyor is controlled by the rebels or the "IO" as they're known -- forces "In Opposition" -- but the government troops are just 20 minutes up the road.
"The war has been so difficult for us," said another woman waiting in line for a cholera vaccination. "Especially for the old women who are not able to run to the river to survive in the islands. Our cows and goats were taken so that's why we are only able to survive through the food agency."
Under each tree is a different medical post -- with health checks for the children. The worst cases of malnutrition are treated straight away.
"You may think this child is actually very healthy -- he's fat, he's looking OK," said James Bwirani from the Food and Agriculture Organisation. "But this is just water accumulating in the body and he has not been consuming adequate food for some time."
The child has a distended belly and his face and limbs are swollen. "If left untreated for between a week to two weeks, this child is going to be dead," Mr. Bwirani said.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is coordinating this emergency response, expecting about 36,000 people to come in from the swamps for help. But there are many thousands more who are too far away, cut off by rivers or in areas where the government and the rebels have not agreed to provide access.
"For many, many months humanitarian agencies have not been able to make it into this area. This is first time we're doing so," said George Fominyen from the WFP. "Without safety, without assurance of security for the people that are in need and the aid workers, we'll be having a catastrophic situation down the line."
The UN describes this as "a man-made famine" -- created by the civil war which has divided the army and the country largely along ethnic lines.
A political row between President Salva Kiir and Mr. Machar led to killings in the capital and fighting which has spread across the country.
The war has displaced millions of people, many into neighbouring countries, and 40% of the population now depends on international aid.
Mr. Machar fled South Sudan in July when a fragile peace deal collapsed. He is currently in South Africa, unable to return but apparently still commanding his troops by phone.
Leer county commissioner Brig Gen Nhial Phan said there won't be peace until Mr. Machar is allowed back to take part in a proposed national dialogue. He believes President Kiir wants to drive people out of his county.
"The government kills people -- their militia is raiding, taking cows, killing and burning the church and the houses, forcing people into the islands," he said.
There are scorch marks where the market used to be and the remains of a Medecins Sans Frontieres clinic, destroyed when the government forces took the town for two days last November.
By getting help in fast, aid agencies hope to pull this region back from famine and stop the famine from spreading -- if they are allowed to access to the worst affected areas.
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