United Nations chief warns of famine, food insecurity in 4 conflict-hit nations – world news


UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that there’s a risk of famine and widespread food insecurity in four countries affected by clash — Congo, Yemen, northeast Nigeria and South Sudan — and the lives of millions of people are in danger.

In a note to Security Council members obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, the UN chief said the four countries rank “some of the largest food crises on this planet”, according to the 2020 Global Outline on Food Crises and recent food security analyses. But underwriting to help is very low, he said.

“Action is needed now,” Guterres said. “Having endured years of armed clash and related violence, the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, northeast Nigeria and South Sudan are again facing the threat of heightened food insecurity and potentially famine.” The UN chief said key indicators “are in a similar way deteriorating” in quite a lot of other conflict-hit countries including Somalia, Burkina Faso and Afghanistan.

“The situation varies from country to country, but civilians are being killed, injured and displaced; livelihoods are destroyed; and availability of and access to food disrupted, amid growing fragility,” Guterres said. “At the same time, humanitarian operations are attacked, delayed or obstructed from delivering life-saving assistance.” He said food insecurity in conflict-affected countries “is now further exacerbated by natural disasters, economic shocks and public health crises, all compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said in an interview with AP that the economic fallout from the pandemic including lock downs, border closures and restrictions on movement have all had “a big effect on food security and agricultural productivity.” And extremists have taken the possibility “to make hay out of all this,” he said.

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“Everybody is very preoccupied by Covid and the virus,” Lowcock said. But “it isn’t the virus that’s creating lots of the carnage. It is other things, and we wish to focus on the things that will in point of fact cause the biggest loss of life.” Lowcock said many of those things are consequences of Covid-19 — the economic contraction, the declining availability of basic public products and services, “the insecurity into which extremist groups are occupying themselves.” He said numerous effort has gone into such things as providing personal protective equipment, public information campaigns on the virus, water and sanitation campaigns, “all of which are good things.” “But whether you do those at the expense of basic humanitarian needs in these badly affected places, what you find yourself with isn’t a discount in loss of life but an increase in loss of life,” Lowcock said.

He said having four countries meet the requirement in a 2018 Security Council resolution to outline to the council when the risk of conflict-induced famine and widespread food insecurity occurs is highly remarkable.

According to the secretary-general’s note, escalating violence in volatile eastern Congo “is again driving disastrous levels of food insecurity and starvation,” and the newest analysis “indicates that over 21 million people are in crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity.” With only 22% of the UN humanitarian appeal currently funded, Guterres said, “core programmes will wish to be reduced or suspended.” In Yemen, where the international community mobilised to prevent famine two years ago, he said, “the risk is slowly returning”.

Escalating clash and economic decline brought the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine two years ago, and similar conditions and worsening key indicators are emerging today, he said.

A recent survey indicated that 3.2 million people in government-controlled areas are now “highly food insecure,” and food prices are 140% higher than averages before the clash began in 2015, Guterres said. “But with only 24% of humanitarian requirements funded in 2020, agencies are now forced to minimize or near core programs.” In northeast Nigeria’s Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, he said, “alarming levels of food insecurity and starvation have arisen in large part because of the actions” of extremists affiliated with armed groups.

Guterres said estimates propose more than 10 million people in the three states — approximately 80% of the population — need humanitarian assistance and protection, an nearly 50% increase since final year and the highest recorded since humanitarian operations began. Yet, the UN appeal is only 33% funded, its lowest level, he said.

In South Sudan’s Jonglei and Greater Pibor administrative area, Guterres said the situation deteriorated hastily in the first half of 2020, “fuelled by escalating violence and insecurity,” Guterres said.

Fighting has been accompanied by widespread attacks on agricultural and pastoral land and the looting of livestock and food, leaving more that 1.4 million people in the area “facing crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity, he said. Moreover, a minimum of 350,000 children be afflicted by severe or moderate acute malnutrition.” Guterres said the newest outlook from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network “is flagging worsening disaster conditions…in areas affected by the violence.”

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