UN report: How to save 20 million people from starvation

The United Nations is calling for member nations to tackle 'the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations' in 1945.

Manuel Elias/The United Nations/AP
Stephen O'Brien, the UN's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, addresses the UN Security Council at UN headquarters on Friday.

The United Nations is calling for a united effort among member countries to tackle the “largest humanitarian crisis” in more than 70 years. 

Stephen O’Brien, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said on Friday that more than 20 million people in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria are facing the threat of starvation and famine. Urging more financial support from member countries, Mr. O’Brien said $4.4 billion is needed by July to avert this disaster. 

"We stand at a critical point in history," 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."

“Collective and coordinated global efforts” are crucial to save those in need, O'Brien said. With the ongoing conflicts in the region, 12 million people in Yemen, 7.5 million in South Sudan, 6.2 million in Somalia, and 10.7 million in Nigeria need immediate assistance, with most of them facing severe food insecurity and a real risk of starving to death.

“Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities’ resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed,” he said in his appeal to the president and members of the Security Council. “Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions.” 

And despite pledges of help, only six percent of the promised funds have been received so far. While 14 donors pledged a total of $672 million for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, including $458 million for humanitarian action, it is still far from the $1.5 billion the region requires, he said. 

Citing the dire situation in these countries, he pleaded for donations.

"To be precise," he said, "We need $4.4 billion by July, and that’s a detailed cost, not a negotiating number."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres made similar appeals last month, saying that the UN had only received $90 million so far in 2017.

O'Brien proposed three additional actions for the international community to prevent widespread starvation: Restore the normal access to food in these countries, guarantee unimpeded humanitarian access to people in need, and come up with a political solution to end the fighting that has displaced millions and very often led to food deprivation of the public. 

“All four countries have one thing in common: conflict,” he said. “This means we – you – have the possibility to prevent, and end, further misery and suffering.”

The Humanitarian Affairs Office is not the first one to point out this humanitarian crisis. The United Nations International Children's Fund on Feb. 21 announced that nearly 1.4 million African children are “at imminent risk” of death due to famine in these four countries, as The Christian Science Monitor reported. 

"Time is running out for more than a million children," UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said at the time.

On Friday, O’Brien said the UN and its humanitarian partners have the coordination and personnel to confront this challenge, but without "sufficient and timely financial support," it is difficult to expand their work. 

"The situation for people in each country is dire, and without a major international response, the situation will get worse," he said in conclusion. "The UN and its partners are ready to scale up. But we need the access and the funds to do more. It is all preventable. It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines, to avert these looming human catastrophes."

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