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UN says famine in four countries greatest humanitarian crisis since WW2

Des enfants yéménites dans une rue de Sanaa, le 24 janvier 2017
The worst crisis is in Yemen, where 18.8 million people -- two thirds of the country's population -- need aid

The world is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second World War, with more than 20 million people in only four countries are facing starvation and famine, a senior United Nations official has warned.

“Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations [in 1945],” UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council on Friday. “Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine.”

O’Brien said that $4.4 billion was needed immediately for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria, in addition to safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid “to avert a catastrophe.”

“To be precise,” O’Brien said, “we need $4.4 billion by July”.


Without the immediate injection of funding, O’Brien said, “people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease.”

The famine classification is according to an internationally recognized sliding scale of hunger in which an extreme lack of food has lead to starvation and death.

UNICEF last month warned that 1.4 million children in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen were suffering from severe malnutrition could die this year from famine.

- Worst crisis in Yemen -

O’Brien said that Yemen was facing the worst crisis, with 18.8 million people (two thirds of the country's population), in need of aid.

Yemen has been embroiled in more than two years of civil war between government forces and Shiite Houthi rebels who control the capital

During his recent visit to Yemen, O’Brien said that senior leaders of the Saudi-backed coalition and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels had all promised access for aid.

Mohammed HUWAIS (AFP/Archives)

“Yet all parties to the conflict are arbitrarily denying sustained humanitarian access and politicize aid,” he said, adding that if there was no serious change, parties “must be held accountable for the inevitable famine, unnecessary deaths and associated amplification in suffering that will follow.”

O’Brien said that UN member nations had raised only six percent of the $2.1 billion needed for 2017 in order to provide 12 million Yemenis “with life-saving assistance and protection.”

The under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs announced that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will chair a pledging conference for Yemen on 25 April in Geneva.

- Man-made famine -

In South Sudan, the world's youngest nation which has been engulfed by a civil war in 2013, O’Brien said that "the situation is worse than it has ever been."

More than 7.5 million people in the country need aid, he said, over one million more than last year. The conflict has displaced some 3.4 million people, including 200,000 who have fled the country since the beginning of the year, he added.

Albert Gonzalez Farran (cds/AFP/File)

“The famine in South Sudan is man-made,” he said. “Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine -- as are those not intervening to make the violence stop.”

In Somalia, O’Brien said that over half the country's population -- 6.2 million people -- need humanitarian assistance and protection including 2.9 million people at risk of famine.

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


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