by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS (Xinhua) -- UN
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday appealed for 5.6
billion U.S. dollars -- 4.4 billion of it by the end of next
month—to prevent famine in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South
Sudan and Yemen where 20 million people face famine.
was joined by UN Development Program Administrator Helen Clark,
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien, who is also the
head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs (OCHA), and on a video link Ertharin Cousin, executive
director of the World Food Program (WFP), at a news conference
here at UN Headquarters in New York.
Two counties of South Sudan have already met the criteria for
a famine situation to be declared, Cousins said.
"Unless we act now, it is only a matter of time until it
affects other areas and other countries," said Guterres.
"We are facing a tragedy; we must avoid it becoming a
"This is preventable if the international community takes
"The situation is dire," he said.
"Millions of people are barely surviving in the space between
malnutrition and death, vulnerable to diseases and outbreaks,
forced to kill their animals for food and eat the grain they
saved for next year’s seeds."
Women and girls were disproportionately affected, said the UN
chief, reflecting his concern at getting the UN system to reach
"One of the biggest obstacles we face now is funding," he
said, adding that humanitarian operations in these four
countries require more than 5.6 billion U.S. dollars this year.
"We need at least 4.4 billion U.S. dollars by the end of
March to avert a catastrophe," Gutteres said.
"Despite some generous pledges, just 90 million U.S. dollars
has actually been received so far—around two cents for every
U.S. dollar needed," Guterres said. "We are in the beginning of
the year but these numbers are very worrying."
O’Brien, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian
affairs, said the threatened 20 million victims are "facing
famine or risk of famine or starvation over the next six months
and that includes 1.4 million children who are currently at
imminent risk of death from severe, acute malnutrition.
"The point is ... these famines can be averted if we act
"The lesson from the 2011 Somalia famine was by the time that
we declared famine, broadly, as a world, half of those who died
already had died," he said.
"This is why we are sounding the alarm now so that we can
avert the catastrophe."
There were 260,000 fatalities by the time the world
organization declared the Somalia famine over in mid 2012.
"We already have in place many of the aid workers and
agencies and implementing partners both at national and
international levels and working in and through governments,
where they have that capacity to respond, to make sure that we
are averting what we can see is a famine through these many
causes—different as they are—but with the common theme of
conflict," O’Brien said.
"There is a total commitment on the part of development
partners to work extremely closely with OCHA and the
humanitarian actors," said UNDP chief Clark.
"Clearly the primary objective here is to save lives in the
face of extremely dire circumstances and part of saving lives is
building resilience for the future."
"A lot is underway," she said.
"A lot of what we are doing is being retargeted, reorganized.
"Everything is being scaled up."
To explain what resilience being scaled up in South Sudan,
she said as an example that such agencies as the UN Children’s
Fund (UNICEF), UNDP, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), WFP, and the
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are working together "on
a comprehensive approach, stabilization and recovery, access to
basic social services, reinvigorating livelihoods locally and
enhancing the capacity of local governments to deliver the
services they need to deliver."
On the video link, WFP Chief Cousins said that in each of
these four countries "plans are in place, the people are
prepared to perform the work that is necessary.
"What we need are the financial resources ... and access."
"This is a very different situation than even in Somalia than
we were in, in 2011," she said.
"In Somalia today as compared to 2011 you have a functioning
"The markets are functioning.
"What we need are the resources to make sure that we can give
access to the food that is available to those who have suffered
from two years of drought and also the meteorologists are
telling us there is that the next rains will also fail."
"Acting now, before we reach the height of the lean season in
each one of these countries will insure our ability to provide
the support that is necessary," Cousins said.
"What we all see on the horizon ... is a famine in each one
of these countries if we fail to act."