‘Mass’ starvation deaths threaten Africa, Yemen

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The United Nations warned Tuesday that “the risk of mass deaths from starvation ... is growing” among people in conflict and drought-hit areas of the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Nigeria.

Due to drought and a “severe” funding shortfall “an avoidable humanitarian crisis ... is fast becoming an inevitability”, said UN refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards.

Violent conflicts and increasing displacement have deepened food shortages in many places, he said, warning that the dangerous combination of factors risked making the current crisis worse than the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa that killed more than 260,000 people.

“A repeat must be avoided at all costs,” he told reporters in Geneva, pointing out that UNHCR’s operations in famine-hit Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen were funded at between just three and 11 percent.

As a whole, the United Nations has requested $4.4 billion to address the famine crisis in the four countries, but has so far received only $984 million, or 21 percent, UN humanitarian agency spokesman Jens Laerke said.

“It is now urgent that the shortfalls be addressed,” Edwards said, pointing out that some 20 million people across the affected countries are in areas affected by drought, including 4.2 million refugees.

Yemen, which is already experiencing the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, 17 million people, or around 60 percent of the war-torn country’s population, is going hungry.

A report by the United Nations World Food Programme outlined the official hunger statistics (known as IPC’s) for March this year in Yemen.

It stated: “The situation continues to deteriorate by the day; together we are facing down the very real threat of a conflict-induced famine.

“Even though there is no statistical confirmation of famine in Yemen a number of UN agencies and partners concur that pockets of famine already exist.”

In conflict-ravaged South Sudan, where the UN already warned in February that fighting, insecurity, lack of access to aid and the collapsing economy had left 100,000 people facing starvation, “a further one million people are now on the brink of famine,” Edwards said.

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