UN aid chief urges global action as famine looms for 20 million across 4 countries

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UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 (APP): Just back from Kenya,
Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia – countries that are facing
or are at risk of famine – the top United Nations humanitarian
official has urged international community for comprehensive
action to save people from simply ‘starving to death.’
“We stand at a critical point in history. Already at
the beginning of the year we are facing the largest
humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN,” UN
Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien told the
Security Council on Friday.
Without collective and coordinated global efforts, he
warned, people risk starving to death and succumbing to
disease, stunted children and lost futures, and mass
displacements and reversed development gains.
“The appeal for action by the Secretary-General can thus
not be understated. It was right to sound the alarm early,
not wait for the pictures of emaciated dying children – to
mobilize a reaction and the funds,” O’Brien underscored,
calling for accelerated global efforts to support UN
humanitarian action on the ground.
Turning to the countries he visited, the senior UN official
said that, about two-thirds of the population (more than 18
million people) in Yemen needed assistance, including more
than seven million severely food insecure, and the fighting
continued to worsen the crisis.
“I continue to reiterate the same message to all: only
a political solution will ultimately end human suffering and
bring stability to the region,” he said, noting that with
access and funding, humanitarians will do more, but cautioned
that relief-workers were “not the long-term solution to the
growing crisis.”
In South Sudan, where a famine was recently declared,
more than 7.5 million people are in need of assistance,
including some 3.4 million displaced. The figure rose
by 1.4 million since last year.
“he famine in the country is man-made. Parties to the
conflict are parties to the famine – as are those not
intervening to make the violence stop,” stressed O’Brien,
calling on the South Sudanese authorities to translate
their assurances of unconditional access into “action on
the ground.”
Similarly, more than half the population of Somalia
(6.2 million people) need aid, 2.9 million of whom
require immediate assistance. Extremely worrying is that
more than one million children under the age of five are
at the risk of acute malnourishment.
“The current indicators mirror the tragic picture of
2011, when Somalia last suffered a famine,” recalled the
UN official, but expressed hope that a famine can be
averted with strong national leadership and immediate and
concerted support by the international community.
Concerning Kenya, he mentioned that more than 2.7
million people were food insecure, and that this number
could reach four million by April.
“In collaboration with the Government [of Kenya], the
UN will soon launch an appeal of $200 million to provide
timely life-saving assistance and protection,” he said.
Further in his briefing, O’Brien informed the Council
of the outcomes of the Oslo Conference on the Lake Chad
Basin where 14 donors pledged a total of $672 million, of
which $458 million is for humanitarian action in 2017.
“This is very good news, and I commend those who
made such generous pledges,” he said but noted that more
was needed to fully fund the $1.5 billion required to provide
the assistance needed across the region.
On the UN response in these locations, O’Brien
highlighted that strategic, coordinated and prioritized
plans are in place and dedicated teams on the ground
are closely working with partners to ensure that
immediate life-saving support reaches those in need.
“Now we need the international community and this
Council to act,” he highlighted, urging prompt action to
tackle the factors causing famine; committing sufficient
and timely financial support; and ensuring that fighting
stops.
In particular, he underscored the need to ensure
that humanitarians have safe, full and unimpeded access
and that parties to the conflict in the affected countries
respect humanitarian law and called on those with influence
over the parties to the conflict to “exert that influence
now.”
“It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these
famines, to avert these looming human catastrophes,” he
concluded. “It is all preventable.”