Threat of four famines in 2017: A catastrophic betrayal of our common humanity

Famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan (Image Credit: USA Today).

THE world stands on the brink of an unprecedented four famines in 2017 due to a catastrophic failure by the global community to uphold its obligations to the most vulnerable of people.

Oxfam calls on donors to take immediate action to help up to 20 million people now at risk of starvation.

Famine was declared last week in parts of South Sudan. In northern Nigeria it is likely that some 400,000 people living in areas cut off from aid are already suffering famine. Both Yemen and Somalia stand on the brink. The primary driver of these crises is conflict, though in Somalia it is drought.

Donor countries have failed to adequately support efforts to resolve these conflicts and, in Yemen, some donors such as the United Kingdom are actually fuelling the conflict through arms sales. Governments and other donors, including Australia, have a moral obligation to meet the $4.4 billion needed for a humanitarian response at the required scale. They need to find political answers to the causes of the collapse of these countries into such appalling levels of suffering.

Oxfam’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said famine did not arrive suddenly or unexpectedly.

“A famine declaration comes after months of procrastination and ignored warnings. It is a slow agonising process, driven by insular national politics and international indifference. It is the ultimate betrayal of our common humanity,” Dr Szoke said.

“Half-hearted responses to UN appeals have short-changed the aid effort to save people’s lives. This must not continue. Governments need to act now to fully fund the aid effort.

“The famine already gripping parts of South Sudan will spread across the country if more is not done. Famine may be imminent in Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria but if we act now with a massive injection of aid, backed by diplomatic clout and driven by the imperative to save lives, we can prevent a catastrophic loss of life. But, without an urgent injection of cash, the humanitarian system will not be able to cope and many more people will die.”

Money is needed now because a hunger crisis can rapidly deteriorate. As a crisis unfolds malnutrition and mortality rates rise exponentially, rather than steadily. After a certain tipping point, further rapid deterioration becomes likely.

Responding to severe malnutrition requires significant humanitarian infrastructure, such as feeding and health centres, and these take time to set-up. People suffering from these crises cannot wait.

Oxfam is calling for immediate humanitarian and political action including:
– More food and life-saving support
– Ensuring affected people can safely move to reach aid, and humanitarian agencies can reach them in turn, including suspending military operations blocking this kind of access and safe movement
– Protection of civilians in all military action
– Committing to respond earlier to warning signs of future crises before they escalate
– Building people’s ability to cope better with future crises. Even without conflict, these countries will remain vulnerable to future food crises

Oxfam is already helping over a million people in Yemen, more than 600,000 in South Sudan, over 200,000 in Nigeria and an assessment mission has just returned from northern Somalia where it plans to begin a response to the drought.

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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