Growing risk of ´mass´ starvation deaths in Africa, Yemen: UN

GENEVA: The United Nations warned on Tuesday of a growing risk of mass deaths from starvation among people living in conflict and drought-hit areas of the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Nigeria.

An “avoidable humanitarian crisis… is fast becoming an inevitability”, as the UN faces a “severe” funding shortfall to help people affected by famine, said UN refugee agency spokesperson Adrian Edwards.

UNHCR´s operations in famine-hit Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen are funded at between just three and 11 percent, he said.

As a whole, the United Nations has requested $4.4 billion to address the crisis in the four countries, but has so far received only $984 million, UN humanitarian agency spokesperson Jens Laerke said.

The current crisis could be worse than the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa that killed more than 260,000 people, Edwards said.

“A repeat must be avoided at all costs.”

More than 20 million people across Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, are in areas hit by drought and are experiencing famine or are at high risk of famine, according to UN numbers.´

Descent into disaster

“It is of immediate urgency that more funds are committed to avert a further descent into disaster in these acute crises,” Laerke said.

In conflict-ravaged South Sudan, where the UN already warned in February that fighting, insecurity, lack of access to aid and the collapsing economy had left 100,000 people facing starvation, “a further one million people are now on the brink of famine,” Edwards said.

And in Yemen, which is already experiencing the world´s largest humanitarian crisis, 17 million people, or around 60 percent of the war-torn country´s population, is going hungry.

In northern Nigeria meanwhile, seven million people are currently struggling with food insecurity, with the situation particularly bad in the northeast of the country, a stronghold of Boko Haram extremists.

The situation is also “very, very dire” in troubled Somalia, David Hermann, who coordinates operations in the country for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“The response should happen now, because if it doesn´t happen now… people are going to die from starvation,” he told reporters.

Edwards said the growing food insecurity was pushing more and more people to leave their homes across the region, with food needs cited as the main factor causing displacement in most locations in Yemen and South Sudan for instance.

“In Sudan, for example, where our initial estimate was for 60,000 arrivals from South Sudan this year, we are in the process of revising the expected total upwards to 180,000,” he told reporters.

He said the lack of funding meant less food distributed to those who need it most: the more than four million refugees in the region, most of whom are children.

“With no money to buy food, rations… are being cut,” he said, adding that in Djibouti rations have been cut by 12 percent, in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda by between 20 and 50 percent, and in Uganda by up to 75 percent.

This can have dramatic consequences, he warned, since “many refugees are without full access to livelihoods and agriculture or food production and their ability to take matters into their own hands and help themselves is limited.”

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