World faces largest humanitarian crisis since 1945

The world faces the largest humanitarian crisis since the United Nations was founded in 1945, with famine and starvation threatening more than 20 million people in four countries, according to the U.N. humanitarian chief. Stephen O’Brien told the U.N. Security Council on March 17 that “without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease.” He urged an immediate injection of funds for humanitarian aid in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria to avert a catastrophe. He said, “We need $4.4 billion by July.”

O’Brien elaborated on the consequences that would follow without action: “Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death,” he said. “Many more will suffer and die from disease. Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities’ resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed. Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions.”

U.N. and food organizations define famine as when more than 30 percent of children under age 5 suffer from acute malnutrition and mortality rates are two or more deaths per 10,000 people every day, among other criteria.

O’Brien said the largest humanitarian crisis is in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, where two-thirds of the population — 18.8 million people — need aid and more than seven million people don’t know where their next meal will come from. “That is three million people more than in January,” he said.

For 2017, O’Brien said $2.1 billion is needed to reach 12 million Yemenis with life-saving assistance and protection,” but only six percent of that amount has been received so far. He announced that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will chair a pledging conference for Yemen on April 25 in Geneva.

The U.N. humanitarian chief also visited South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, which has been ravaged by a three-year civil war and “the situation is worse than it has ever been.” O’Brien said, “The famine in South Sudan is man-made. Parties to the conflict are parties to the famine, as are those not intervening to make the violence stop.”

O’Brien said more than 7.5 million people in South Sudan need aid, including 270,000 children who face the imminent risk of death should they not be reached in time with assistance.” “Meanwhile,” he said, “the cholera outbreak that began in June 2016 has spread to more locations.”

In Somalia, which O’Brien also visited, more than half the population — 6.2 million people — need humanitarian assistance and protection. “What I saw and heard during my visit to Somalia was distressing. Women and children walk for weeks in search of food and water. They have lost their livestock, water sources have dried up, and they have nothing left to survive on,” O’Brien said. “With everything lost, women, boys, girls and men now move to urban centers.”

In northeast Nigeria, a seven-year uprising by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has driven 2.6 million from their homes. Because of malnutrition in the northeast, some adults are too weak to walk and some areas have lost all their toddlers.

O’Brien’s grim report came as President Donald Trump proposed slashing U.S. spending for the United Nations by more than half. The United Nations warned against the effects of the proposed cuts: “Abrupt funding cuts can force the adoption of ad hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres’s spokesman said in a statement.

Peter Yeo, vice president of the U.N. Foundation, said that if the United States is forced back into arrears because it stops paying its dues, then it could lose its vote in the general assembly after two years. “But,” he said, “the real consequence is we lose our credibility with the United Nations when we don’t pay our dues. If you want multilateral pressure, including sanctions on rogue regimes, you’ve got to have strong American leadership in the Security Council. ... Why would other countries do what we want if we aren’t paying our dues? They won’t.”

That, he said, is the security consequence. On the humanitarian side, the effects of the United States withdrawing its funding are likely to be irrevocable — and also, in the end, an American national security issue. Meeting people’s economic and health needs can reduce their drive to join radical terrorist organizations.

“It’s a horrible amalgamation of crises that is causing the greatest humanitarian challenge since the inception of the U.N. seventy-one years ago,” Yeo said. “At the same time, we have the most challenged relationship between the U.S. and the U.N. So the timing is not good here.”

– edited from NBC News and The Washington PostPeaceMeal, March/April 2017

If you would like to help with a donation, here are some of the top famine relief organizations:


International Rescue Committee –

Oxfam –


World Food Program –

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)