By Ramya Kannan
The United Nations has declared that the world is facing its largest humanitarian Crisis since 1945. This crisis is expected to affect approximately 20 million people if at least $4.4 billion in humanitarian aid is not provided immediately. South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and Kenya are facing acute shortage of food while severe malnutrition has put the lives of 1.4 million children at risk. The use of the term ‘famine’ as defined by the United Nations, is limited to situations where 30% of the children suffer from acute malnutrition, 20% of the households are unable to cope with food shortage, and the death toll exceeds 2 people per day in a population of 10,000. The fact that such levels have been surpassed in as many as four countries is a cause of great concern. In the absence of immediate action by world leaders, the crisis could be the cause of unprecedented deaths and displacement. After his visit to the affected regions, Stephen O’ Brien, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, has reinforced the need to tackle the crisis through collected and coordinated global efforts.
The extent of the crisis
The famine has spread throughout Africa, catalysed by the wars and insurgencies which have interrupted agricultural activity. While an estimated 19 million people are in need of humanitarian help, about 4.9 million people require nutritional assistance in South Sudan. Close to 7.1 million people, including 75,000 children experiencing starvation, face food insecurity in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region. In Somalia, where 110 people were reported to have starved to death within 48 hours, immediate relief is required for almost 6.2 million people.
It is evident that human conflicts in all these regions have forced the population to succumb to starvation. Apart from the irreversible physical damage, war and violence have interrupted productive activities like agriculture and import of necessary goods. In Yemen, access to food has deteriorated due to the conflict between the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the exiled President. The air strikes and naval embargo undertaken by a Saudi-led coalition have damaged agricultural resources and reduced imports. Moreover, low availability of fuel and damaged markets and roads have affected the distribution of important supplies.
South Sudan, where rebel forces and the government have been at war with each other since 2013, has seen a major fall in crop production and livestock. The loss of resources has caused a serious rise in the price of food items, leading to an economic collapse. Some claim that the government has blocked aid to specific regions, while cases of damage to humanitarian convoys by rebels and the government have also been reported. Despite claims of controlling the infiltration of Boko Haram, Nigeria has been unable to tackle food scarcity. The displacement of people from their traditional agricultural lands, coupled with the inaccessibility of areas under Boko Haram’s rule, means that a large part of the population continues to starve.
In Somalia, one of the reasons for water scarcity and the subsequent loss of livestock and crops is the El Nino weather phenomenon. Apart from this, Somalia faces incessant attacks by the Islamist militant group, Al-Shabab, which are responsible for cutting off supplies to the mainland.
Measures to avert the crisis
During the Oslo Conference on Lake Chad Region, 14 donors pledged $672 million in humanitarian aid. Other such pledges have also been made since the crisis began, unfortunately, the amount of aid actually received is very limited. The first step in tackling the humanitarian crisis could be to ensure improved access to available aid. Moreover, as stated by Stephen O’Brien, it is essential to achieve stability through a political solution. Strong national leadership, support of the international community through financial aid, provision of relief workers, and other such means, will go a long way in averting the crisis.
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