The hope needed to end a hunger crisis of historic scale

With acute food needs in four countries, the UN faces the worst humanitarian crisis in seven decades. The world must assist its most vulnerable, not only with money but efforts for peace in these conflict areas. 

AP Photo
Women wait for food distribution by the World Food Programme in in South Sudan. An estimated 100,000 people are experiencing famine, and another 1 million people are on the brink of starvation, South Sudan's government and U.N. agencies said in late February.

Soon after being chosen as secretary-general of the United Nations last year, António Guterres vowed to serve “the most vulnerable” in the world. Not long afterward, Nikki Haley, who is President Trump’s ambassador to the UN, said she hopes the world body would act on behalf of the displaced and hungry, or “the people whose voices often go unheard.”

Little did either one know that their sentiment, which comes out of a compassion for the weakest in society, would be very much needed in 2017. Last week, the UN said the world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945.

The lives of more than 20 million people – nearly equivalent to the population of Australia – are at risk of famine in four countries, the UN estimates. Of the four, South Sudan in northeast Africa has already been formally declared as a famine zone. Overall, more than 40 percent of its population is in need of food. If the UN declares an official famine in the three other countries, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen, the totality of these crises would be unprecedented.

The cause for the food shortages in each country is a combination of war, drought, and weak governance. In addition, aid workers are hindered by lack of access to conflict areas. Money is certainly needed. The UN is asking donors for $4.4 billion by July to deliver food and other aid. But just as urgent are peace efforts to end the fighting in each country.

While the need is most acute in South Sudan, the UN says Yemen as a whole is the largest humanitarian disaster. More than two thirds of the population, or about 18 million people, need assistance in the midst of a proxy war between forces backed by Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Somalia, more than half of the population is vulnerable because of drought in the Horn of Africa and the instability caused by a war against Al Shabab militants. In Nigeria, the crisis comes out of continuing threats posed by Islamist Boko Haram fighters and by military restrictions on travel.

Since the Ethiopian famine in 1984-85, the world has learned much about how to respond to such crises or prevent them. In fact, despite a current drought, Ethiopia is applying many lessons from its earlier crisis to reach the hungry. Kenya, too, is doing much to ward off the effects of a drought.

If it acts as one, the global community can help these millions of people. The UN chose a leader in Mr. Guterres whose heart is with the most vulnerable. That compassion defines him. At this moment, it can also define humanity.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.