The UN family of organizations, governments and partners have ramped their response to evolving hunger crises in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
Approximately 20 million people are in acute danger of suffering from a hunger crises with up to two thirds of the population in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria possibly threatened by famine.
The UN has appealed to the global community to stem the humanitarian crises and several international organizations and governments are stepping up support for emergency relief, but a serious funding gap remains.
March 2017: In past weeks, the UN family of organizations, governments and partners have stressed the need to respond to evolving hunger crises in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, with UN Secretary-General António Guterres appealing to the international community to take “decisive action” and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien calling the situation the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN. This update provides an overview of events and responses by the international community to famine threatening the lives and development of millions in fragile countries.
Call for Action
On 20 February, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) formally declared famine for parts of South Sudan, alerting the international community that some 100,000 people face starvation as a result of conflict and economic collapse. The release of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Update by the Government of South Sudan and three partner organizations prompted the alert. The IPC states that 40% of South Sudan’s population (approximately 4.9 million people) need “urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance.”
A FAO press release indicates that a formal declaration of famine is issued once there is evidence that people have started dying of hunger, noting that the current situation is primarily a consequence of the disruption of agriculture due to conflict. The release also outlines relief operations conducted by the three organizations throughout 2016 and planned relief actions, including WFP’s plans to provide nutrition assistance to 4.1 million people and UNICEF’s efforts to treat 207,000 children for severe acute malnutrition. [FAO Press Release] [UN Press Release] [IPC Global Alert – South Sudan]
On 21 February, UNICEF reported that almost 1.4 million children are at imminent risk of death from severe, acute malnutrition across Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. The statement explains that in all four countries, the numbers of people, and especially children facing famine, are expected to increase rapidly due to prolonged drought and conflict. [UNICEF Press Release] [UN Press Release]
In response to these reports, a press conference was held at UN Headquarters in New York, US on 22 February, during which UN Secretary-General Guterres, the heads of UNICEF, WFP, FAO, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien called for “strong and urgent action from the international community to help the already fragile countries avert catastrophe.” Guterres stated that the UN requires US$4.4 billion by the end of March 2017 to prevent this catastrophe, noting that only US$90 million had been provided as of 22 February. [UN Press Release]
O’Brien briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and the Lake Chad region, stressing that in these countries, more than 20 million people face starvation and famine.
20 Million People in Need
On 10 March, O’Brien briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and the Lake Chad region, stressing that in these countries, more than 20 million people face starvation and famine. He stated that the UN is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since its creation and that collective and coordinated global efforts are necessary to prevent people from starving to death or dying from disease and avoiding the reversal of development gains in the affected countries.
O’Brien asked the international community and the Security Council to: tackle the precipitating factors of famine, including restoring access to food and compliance by all parties with international humanitarian law; ensure safe full and unimpeded access by humanitarians to people in need; and end conflicts in the affected countries. Noting that UN agencies are ready to scale up relief efforts, he reiterated the need for support from the Security Council to enable action to avert the crises. [Statement by Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien to the UN Security Council] [UN Press Release]
On 15 March, FAO, WFO and UNICEF released the IPC analysis and an Emergency Food Security and Nutrition Assessment for Yemen. The studies show that almost two-thirds of the Yemeni population (17 million people) are at “emergency” or “crisis” levels of food insecurity, representing a 21% increase over the past eight months. The two documents further stress that conflict, which is disrupting agriculture, is the main driver of food insecurity, reiterating their appeal to all parties to facilitate unconditional and sustained access to people in need. [IPC Update on Yemen] [Yemen Emergency Food Security and Nutrition Assessment 2016 – Preliminary Results] [UN Press Release] [FAO Press Release] [WFP Press Release, 13 March] [WFP Press Release, 15 March]
On 8 March, the World Bank announced the mobilization of immediate response action for Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, including a financial package of US$1.6 billion to “build social protection systems, strengthen community resilience, and maintain service delivery to the most vulnerable.” The package comprises US$870 million of existing operations, plus US$770 million to be funded through the World Bank International Development Association (IDA) Crises Response Window. [World Bank Press Release]
On 17 and 20 March, WFP reported that it received a US$8.4 million contribution from the Government of Japan and the second of two shipments of emergency food assistance provided by USAid. The press release on Japan’s contribution notes that more than US$8 million will be needed to continue WFP’s relief operations in South Sudan. The press release on USAid’s shipments states that the US has contributed more than US$1 billion to WFP’s operations in Sudan since 2012. [WFP Press Release 17 March (Japan)] [WFP Press Release 20 March (USAid)]