World facing 'largest humanitarian crisis'

An internally displaced Somali woman holds her malnourished child fitted with a nasogastric tube inside a ward dedicated for diarrhoea patients at the Banadir hospital in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on March 5. About 6.2 million people in the countr
An internally displaced Somali woman holds her malnourished child fitted with a nasogastric tube inside a ward dedicated for diarrhoea patients at the Banadir hospital in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on March 5. About 6.2 million people in the country need humanitarian assistance and protection. PHOTO: REUTERS
An internally displaced Somali woman holds her malnourished child fitted with a nasogastric tube inside a ward dedicated for diarrhoea patients at the Banadir hospital in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on March 5. About 6.2 million people in the countr
Mohanned, five, in Abs hospital in Yemen, in December last year. It is believed that a child dies every 10 minutes from a preventable disease there.PHOTO: UNICEF

UN warns that 20 million people in four nations may starve to death without global assistance

NEW YORK • The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II with over 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", Mr Stephen O'Brien, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the Security Council in New York on Friday.

He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and north-east Nigeria "to avert a catastrophe", The Guardian news site reported. "To be precise," Mr O'Brien said, "we need US$4.4 billion (S$6.2 billion) by July."

According to The Guardian, UN and food organisations define famine as when more than 30 per cent of children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people every day, among other criteria.

The largest humanitarian crisis is in Yemen where two-thirds of the population - 18.8 million people - need aid and more than seven million people are hungry and do not know where their next meal will come from. It is thought that a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from a preventable disease, while half a million children under the age of five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, said the BBC.

The Arab world's poorest nation has been engulfed in two years of war between Iran-backed Houthi insurgents and the government, which is backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

Mr O'Brien said US$2.1 billion is needed this year to reach 12 million Yemenis "with life-saving assistance and protection" but only 6 per cent of that sum has been received so far.

The ravages of war have also hit South Sudan, where three years of fighting has caused a man-made famine. Over 7.5 million people there are in need of aid, with over one million children estimated to be acutely malnourished.

In Somalia, more than half the population - 6.2 million people - need humanitarian assistance and protection, including 2.9 million who are at risk of famine and require immediate help "to save or sustain their lives".

Mr O'Brien warned that close to one million children under the age of five would be "acutely malnourished" this year.

"What I saw and heard during my visit to Somalia was distressing - women and children walk for weeks in search of food and water. They have lost their livestock, water sources have dried up and they have nothing left to survive on," he said.

In north-east Nigeria, a seven-year uprising by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram has driven 2.6 million people from their homes. Malnutrition in the north-east is so pronounced that some adults are too weak to walk and some communities have lost all their toddlers.

"To be clear, we can avert a famine," Mr O'Brien said. "We're ready despite incredible risk and danger... but we need those huge funds now."

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Stephen O'Brien says a massive famine risk can be avoided http://str.sg/4hut

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 12, 2017, with the headline 'World facing 'largest humanitarian crisis''. Print Edition | Subscribe