MORE than 20 million people face the threat of starvation in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, according to the United Nations.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien has issued an international plea for help and declared that the situation is the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945. He said $4.4bn (£3.6bn) was needed by July to avert disaster.
Last month UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres revealed that the organisation had only received $90m (£74m) so far in 2017, despite generous pledges by wealthy western nations.
Addressing the UN Security Council on Friday, O’Brien said: “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 United Nations.”
Furthermore, he said: “Now, more than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease.
“Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities’ resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed. Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions.”
Unicef has warned that 1.4m children could starve to death this year.
The UN estimates that around 19 million people – or two thirds of Yemen’s population – is in need of some sort of humanitarian help following two years of war between Houthi insurgents and the government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition.
Meanwhile, UN agencies say 100,000 people are facing starvation in South Sudan, while a further million are classified as being on the brink of famine. Overall, the UN says 4.9 million people – or 40% of South Sudan’s population – are “in need of urgent food, agriculture and nutrition assistance”.
The country has been at war since 2013 and there are allegations that President Salva Kiir’s government has been blocking food aid to certain areas.
The UN has described the unfolding disaster in north-eastern Nigeria as the “greatest crisis on the continent” – the full extent of which has only been revealed as extremist militant group Boko Haram is pushed back.
The Islamist group has killed an estimated 15,000 people and pushed more than two million from their homes, creating famine-like conditions as displaced people are always on the move with no resources for sustenance.
In December 2016 the UN estimated that 75,000 children in northern Nigeria were at risk of starving to death. Another 7.1 million people in Nigeria and the neighbouring Lake Chad area are considered “severely food insecure”.