Famine stalks millions amid dearth of food aid
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.