Famine stalks mil­lions amid dearth of food aid

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

THIS year, the UN made one of its bold­est re­quests ever for fund­ing. It needed bil­lions of dol­lars to fund a hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse, said Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­tónio Guter­res, or as many as 20 mil­lion peo­ple might starve to death.

Five months later, the re­sults of that ap­peal are dis­mal. The UN has raised about a third of its goal, and there’s lit­tle rea­son to be­lieve much more is com­ing.

The fund­ing is for four coun­tries fac­ing mas­sive hunger crises: South Su­dan, So­ma­lia, Nige­ria and Ye­men. Of the $6.1 bil­lion (R78bn) re­quested for those coun­tries, only $2.2bn, or 36%, has been pledged.

In each cri­sis, aid of­fi­cials said, the lack of fund­ing has led to a re­duc­tion in food as­sis­tance for those in need. It re­mains un­clear how many lives have been lost be­cause of the lack of fund­ing.

This month Guter­res warned that a Ye­meni child dies ev­ery 10 min­utes of pre­ventable causes such as con­flict, hunger and dis­ease. Unicef has said that more than 275 000 chil­dren across So­ma­lia are fac­ing se­vere mal­nu­tri­tion. In South Su­dan, the UN says 2 800 peo­ple are flee­ing wors­en­ing vi­o­lence and loom­ing famine ev­ery day.

“It means, large num­bers of peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly chil­dren, will suf­fer and die,” said An­drea Tam­burini, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ac­tion Against Hunger.

The fund­ing short­fall comes at a par­tic­u­larly trou­bling time, with some re­gions in the af­fected coun­tries about to en­ter the “lean sea­son”, as fam­i­lies ex­haust their last re­serves from the pre­vi­ous harvest.

Of the four crises, the UN’s big­gest short­falls are in Nige­ria, where only 28% of $1.05bn re­quested has been raised. In Ye­men, 23.7% of the $2.1bn ap­peal has been funded.

That fund­ing gap is al­ready be­ing felt in north-east­ern Nige­ria, where 1.8 mil­lion peo­ple need food as­sis­tance, many of them liv­ing in makeshift dis­place­ment camps in bombed-out cities.

In the ab­sence of fund­ing, the World Food Pro­gramme this month had to aban­don its plans to feed about 500 000 of the nearly 2 mil­lion in need, in­stead fo­cus­ing on the most ur­gent cases.

In Nige­ria, the UN has also been un­able to pro­vide thou­sands of peo­ple with 15 litres of clean water per day – seen by many in the hu­man­i­tar­ian com­mu­nity as a ba­sic stan­dard for sur­vival.

“This will have an im­pact in mor­bid­ity and mor­tal­ity, par­tic­u­larly for chil­dren,” said Sa­man­tha New­port, a spokesper­son for the UN Of­fice for the Co-or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs.

Rais­ing funds for hunger crises, par­tic­u­larly in Africa, is never easy. In 2011, the UN strug­gled to gal­vanise donors dur­ing a famine in East Africa. In So­ma­lia alone, 260 000 peo­ple died dur­ing that cri­sis, though a lack of fund­ing wasn’t the only rea­son for that mas­sive loss of life. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s re­sponse had been slow even be­fore the fundrais­ing ap­peal be­gan, and aid de­liv­ery had been com­pli­cated by al-Shabaab mil­i­tants.

Many in the aid com­mu­nity wor­ried that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bud­get, which pro­posed mas­sive cuts to for­eign aid, would be dis­as­trous for the in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse. But so far, the US is still do­nat­ing more than other na­tions.


Women and chil­dren wait to be treated at a Médecins Sans Fron­tières sup­port clinic in Thaker, South Su­dan.

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