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Famine - 2017

Sounding the alarm on behalf of more than 20 million people in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and north-east Nigeria facing devastating levels of food insecurity, Secretary-General Antnio Guterres joined other top United Nations officials 22 February 2017 calling for strong and urgent action from the international community to help the already-fragile countries avert catastrophe.

The United Nations estimates more than 17 million people are facing hunger in nine countries. Somalia is facing its second famine in less than six years, South Sudan has declared some parts of the country in famine, and Kenya's government declared the drought there a national disaster. More than 5.5 million people are going to bed hungry in Ethiopia alone.

Famine is already a reality in parts of South Sudan. Unless we act now, it is only a matter of time until it affects other areas and other countries. We are already facing a tragedy; we must avoid it becoming a catastrophe, said the Secretary-General, stressing: This is preventable if the international community takes decisive action.

Briefing the press at UN Headquarters in New York alongside the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, Helen Clark, and by video conference, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, Guterres said the UN needs at least $4.4 billion by the end of March 2017 to avert a catastrophe.

Despite some generous pledges, just $90 million has actually been received so far around two cents for every dollar needed. We are at the beginning of the year, but these numbers are very worrying, he said: The lives of millions of people depend on our collective ability to act. In our world of plenty, there is no excuse for inaction or indifference.

In South Sudan, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners aim to assist 5.8 million people this year; in Somalia, 5.5 million people and in Yemen 8.3 million. In north-east Nigeria, humanitarians are reaching more than two million people with food assistance.

These four crises are very different, but are all preventable. They all stem from conflict, which we must do much more to prevent and resolve, he said, urging all members of the international community to step up and do whatever is in their power, whether that is mobilizing support, exerting political pressure on parties to conflict, or funding humanitarian operations. Saving lives is the first priority, but we are also looking to build longer-term resilience to shocks, Mr. Guterres said, noting that UNDP Administrator and the Emergency Relief Coordinator will set up a steering committee to link the UN Development Group and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee for humanitarian assistance to ensure a coordinated long-term approach.

Clark noted that the way forward on the four crises would very much reflect the new way of working among relief and development agencies agreed by the 2016 UN World Humanitarian Summit, which stressed that the priority is saving lives and part of saving lives is building resilience for the future. For her part, Cousin said that in each of these four countries, the plans are in place and the people are prepared to perform the work that is necessary. What we need is the resources and the access.

Acting now, before we reach the height of the lean season in these countries will ensure our ability to provide the support that is necessary to avoid what we all see on the horizon, which is a famine in each one of these countries if we fail to act, she stated. Carla Mucavi, the Director of UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Liaison Office in New York, and Justin Forsyth, the Deputy Executive Director of the UN Childrens Fund (UNICEF), also attended the briefing.

U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien, who just returned from field missions to the affected countries, told Security Council members 10 March 2017 that the United Nations faced its largest humanitarian crisis since the organization's creation.

  • 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, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen OBrien 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.
  • 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. "Aid workers have been killed, humanitarian compounds and supplies have been attacked, looted and occupied by armed actors," O'Brien noted. Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine as are those not intervening to make the violence stop, stressed OBrien, 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 need 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.
  • Concerning Kenya, O'Brien mentioned that more than 2.7 million people were food insecure, and that this number could reach four million by April 2017. 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.
  • Three states in northeastern Nigeria Borno, Adamawa and Yobe are severely food insecure because of violence and instability stoked by Boko Haram terrorists. More than 8.5 million people in those three areas need aid. More than $1 billion is needed to meet critical needs in the northeast.

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