The United Nations (UN) is warning that the world is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II, with more than 20 million people facing starvation and famine in four countries.
The world body’s humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien called Friday for an urgent mobilization of funds – $4.4 billion by July – for northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen to “avert a catastrophe.”
“Otherwise, many people will predictably die from hunger, livelihoods will be lost and political gains that have been hardwon over the last few years will be reversed,” O’Brien said in his stark warning to the UN Security Council.
“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.”
He called war-wracked Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” with two thirds of the population, or 18.8 million people – three million more than in January – in need of assistance and more than seven million with no regular access to food.
The conflict in Yemen has left more than 7,400 people dead and 40,000 wounded since an Arab-state coalition intervened on the government’s side against rebels in March 2015, according to UN figures.
In just the past two months alone, more than 48,000 people have fled fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country, according to O’Brien, as it grapples with a proxy war fought by arch rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.
More than half the population of Somalia, 6.2 million people, need humanitarian assistance and protection, including 2.9 million at risk of famine. Nearly one million children under the age of five will be acutely malnourished this year, according to the humanitarian chief, who also visited the country.
“What I saw and heard during my visit to Somalia was distressing – women and children walk for weeks in search of food and water,” O’Brien said.
“They have lost their livestock, water sources have dried up and they have nothing left to survive on. With everything lost, women, boys, girls and men now move to urban centers.”
In northeastern Nigeria, O’Brien said 10.7 million people need humanitarian aid, including 7.1 million people who are “severely food insecure.”
The humanitarian emergency afflicting the area was triggered by the Boko Haram insurgency, which erupted in Nigeria in 2009. Poor governance and climate change have also been powerful contributors to the crisis.
The conflict, which has left around 20,000 people dead and forced more than 2.6 million others to flee their homes, has aggravated an already difficult humanitarian situation in one of the poorest regions of the world according to the UN.