By PATRICK MAYOYO
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 today urged the 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 today.
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,” Mr. 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.”
Seventeen countries in Africa are dealing with drought.
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.
“The 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 Mr. 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) is in need of 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 informed.
Further in his briefing, Mr. 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, Mr. 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.
Drought is affecting more than 39 million people in 17 countries in East and Southern Africa. PHOTO/IRIN
“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.”
Drought is affecting more than 39 million in East and Southern Africa.
And IRIN, adds that farmers, traders and consumers across East and Southern Africa are feeling the impact of consecutive seasons of drought that have scorched harvests and ruined livelihoods.
The El Niño-driven crisis has increased the malnutrition rates of rural children, and driven up food prices for urban residents.
Livestock deaths and fire sales have slashed the asset wealth of pastoralists, and cumulative bad harvests will make recovery all the harder for small-scale farmers.
Families displaced by drought in Baidoa, Somalia, gather around Secretary-General António Guterres (white cap), who is in the region urging action to help them. Photo: UNSOM
In the worst cases, where conflict has made farming impossible and reduced humanitarian access, there will be famine. That currently applies only to South Sudan, but could also include Somalia if the emergency response falters.
What makes food price spikes all the harder to bear is that there is rarely a corresponding increase in people’s wages. And when the drought is over, prices often stay stubbornly high, note researchers Paul Adams and Edward Paice.
A number of countries wrestling with the impact of El Niño have still recorded decent macro-economic growth rates, but food price inflation means those benefits are rarely felt by ordinary citizens.
There are a number of strategies governments could adopt to address the situation: from improving the tradability of food, to coordinated climate change adaptation strategies, to meeting the African Union target of allocating 15 percent of budget spending to agriculture.
“No miraculous discoveries are required,” suggest Adams and Paice. “But the start point is recognition of the unsustainability of a relentless rise in the cost of food throughout Africa; and the fact that while droughts and conflict may create price spikes, the root causes of this phenomenon lie with government.”
Seventeen countries on the continent affected by severe drought
The following is a list of 17 countries struggling to come to terms with the impact of two consecutive years of drought, which has left more than 38 million people at risk this year.
Women in Ganyiel, Unity state, South Sudan, collecting bags of food. The situation in Ganyiel is dire, with thousands of people having fled to the area from famine-stricken Leer and Mayendit counties. Photo: OCHA/Gemma Connell
At risk: 1.2 million
The southern regions of Cunene, Huila and Namibe have been hard hit. As granaries empty and people sell off livestock, there are concerns over their ability to bounce back this year. Food prices are high and government services are limited.
At risk: 3 million
Poor rains last year, a one-month delay in the harvest, above average food prices, and reduced income from agricultural labour is expected to hurt poor households. But food insecurity – affecting a quarter of the population – is also driven by the country’s economic crisis as a result of ongoing political violence.
At risk: 227,463
Djibouti is one of the world’s most arid countries. Some 227,463 people are threatened with food insecurity in the hardest-hit areas of Ali Sabieh, Obock and Dikhil.
At risk: 450,000+
Eritrea strictly controls humanitarian access, so the extent of the crisis is difficult to gauge. The government denies there is a problem. But UNICEF has noted that malnutrition has increased over the past three years in four out of the country’s six regions, where rates already exceeded emergency levels. UNICEF plans to reach 450,000 children this year with nutritional support. That is likely to underestimate the extent of the problem.
Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien (second right) visiting Ganyiel, Unity state, South Sudan, on 4 March 2017, is briefed on the ongoing humanitarian response to famine in the region. Photo: OCHA/Gemma Connell
At risk: 5.7million
The strongest El Niño phenomenon on record led to an extreme drought in 2016, with 10.2 million in need of food aid. A new drought means 2017 could be just as dire, throwing an additional 5.7 million people into crisis. Farmers and herders found their resilience tested to the limit last year. They have very limited resources left to cope with the current crisis.
At risk: 2.6 million
Widespread crop failure and falling terms of trade for pastoralists have affected farming and agro-pastoral communities in the northwest, northeastern and coastal strip of Kenya. The two main rainy seasons failed in 2006. There are growing reports of conflict as a result of displacement and water shortages. Four million people could be in need of aid by July if the long rains fail.
At risk: 159,959
Ninety percent of people in need received in-kind and cash aid. Without the ongoing assistance, Lesotho would be in a food security crisis. With good rains this season, an average harvest is forecast.
At risk: 978,000
Maize, cassava and rice production dropped by as much as 95 percent in the south of the country last year. Some 845,000 people are in immediate need. Of those, 330,000 are facing emergency conditions. Countrywide, rice prices were up by 25 percent and maize prices had doubled by the end of January.
At risk: 6.7 million
Half of Malawi’s rural population – 6.7 million people – are receiving food aid after two consecutive years of drought. In 2016, food prices were up 172 percent above the five-year average. The harvest this month should ease needs, and food prices are already falling as aid reduces pressure on the markets. But cash crop farmers are expected to see a fall in income this season after reducing the area they planted.
At risk: 2 million+
The impact of last month’s cyclone Dineo is expected to add an additional 300,000 to those in need. Drought has exhausted household food stocks, and aid is reaching only 45 percent the vulnerable. Dineo, which hit coastal Inhambane Province, affected nearly 551,000 people and destroyed 27,000 hectares of crops. Food aid and seeds are urgently needed.
At risk: unknown
Rwanda did not escape last year’s drought. Media reports said that between 50,000 and 100,000 families suffered severe crop losses, especially in eastern and southern districts.
At risk: 6.2 million
Half of all Somalis are facing acute food insecurity. Of these, nearly three million need urgent life-saving aid. The worsening drought has led to widespread water and pasture shortages for livestock. Displacement, malnutrition and drought-related diseases are all on the rise, and famine could be declared in parts of the country. Access is complicated by the al-Shabab insurgency.
At risk: 4.6 million
Sudan experiences unpredictable rainfall and desertification. The 2015 El Niño event was particularly severe and continued to be felt in the east of the country in 2016. Food insecurity is also driven by conflict, particularly in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
At risk: 638,000
The 2016 drought scorched Swaziland, leaving an estimated 638,251 people in need of aid. Basic food prices remain high at the peak of the lean season. The rainfall forecast is for average to above-normal rains, but household productivity is expected to be lower than normal.
At risk: unknown
There have been media reports of failed harvests and livestock deaths. In response, a senior government official in the northern Manyara region released emergency food stocks onto the market. The government is resisting calls for a declaration of emergency.
At risk: 390,000+
Food stocks are critically low in northeastern Karamoja. Between July and November last year, 390,000 people were at crisis/emergency levels. Of those, only 200,000 were receiving aid. Conditions are also bad around Arua in the northwest. Two consecutive seasons of poor rains have hit production across much of the country. Staple food prices are rising.
At risk: 4.1 million
Consecutive El Nino-related droughts has left half the rural population in need of food aid until the end of the lean season in March. The crisis is compounded by low purchasing power, reduced remittances from South Africa and high food prices. There have been good rains over the past two months but there is a national shortage of fertilizer. There has also been an outbreak of the hard-to-control Armyworm pest throughout the country.
For in-depth reporting on how climate change is affecting farmers and food security in several African countries, see this special IRIN project.
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