UN warns of expanding famine in East Africa, Yemen

By John J. Metzler

“More than 20 million people in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and northeast Nigeria are going hungry, and facing devastating levels of food insecurity,” warned U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres. In a stunning and passionate plea for famine relief in the drought and conflict ridden regions, Guterres stressed, “We’re facing a tragedy; we must avoid it becoming a catastrophe.” Over 1.4 million children remain at risk of death from famine.

Guterres cautioned, “This is preventable if the international community takes decisive action.”

Addressing the media with a high-profile humanitarian panel including the U.N.’s Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien, the Secretary General spoke of five million people in South Sudan and a further five million in northeast Nigeria who face serious food shortages.

He highlighted Yemen in the Arabian peninsula; “Yemen is facing the largest food insecurity emergency in the world, with an estimated 7.3 million people needing help now.”

In all these cases, insurgencies against already fragile governments are part of the equation.

Yemen, for example, has seen civil conflict between government forces supported by a Saudi Arabian coalition and Iranian backed Islamic rebels. The Secretary General called on all parties to the conflicts to “respect humanitarian law.”

In Yemen, the food insecurity is “staggering,” with 65 percent of households estimated to be food insecure; more than 460,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition.

Yemen has emerged as a hotbed of al-Qaida operations. Moreover Yemen also hosts Islamic State terrorists, adding to instability in the country. Since 2014 the mountainous land has drifted into protracted civil war.