Malnutrition and starvation stalks millions in Africa
The UNICEF has issued a dire warning of a looming humanitarian crisis in Africa. Nearly 1.4 million children are at imminent risk of death as famine looms in at least four countries — Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. In South Sudan, which has been in the grip of armed conflict, some 2,70,000 children are severely malnourished. The total number of food-starved people in the country is expected to increase from 4.9 million to 5.5 million by July, if adequate steps are not taken to tackle the spreading and intensifying crisis. According to UNICEF, in Yemen, 4,62,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a 200 per cent increase since 2014. And in Somalia, around 6.2 million people — almost half the country’s population are facing acute food insecurity. The severe malnutrition and hunger as well as looming famine conditions in Africa are “largely man-made,” UNICEF officials are pointing out.
Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen have been in the grip of armed conflict for years and this is intensifying already existing problems of poverty, hunger and poor food distribution. Oil-rich South Sudan is facing unprecedented levels of hunger at present thanks mainly to decades of armed conflict there.
War disrupted agriculture and forcibly displaced millions of South Sudanese farmers, severely undermining food security in the country. Inflation worsened the situation as food prices soared by 800 per cent.
It has put food beyond the reach of most of South Sudan’s population. Worryingly, people in rebel-held areas of South Sudan’s Unity State are being deliberately denied access to food. Humanitarian agencies allege that the government is blocking food convoys from reaching areas sympathetic to the rebels. And the rebels too are attacking and looting food assistance meant for the masses. The UN has formally declared a famine in parts of South Sudan’s Unity State.
This means that people have already started dying of hunger. There is a possibility of famine declarations in Nigeria, Somali and Yemen too. Four famine declarations simultaneously would be an unprecedented situation in modern times, humanitarian agencies are saying. The international community must act swiftly to prevent the crisis from worsening. More humanitarian assistance is urgently needed. Importantly, unimpeded access for humanitarian convoys is necessary to ensure that the food reaches the intended beneficiaries.
The UN must act too to enable local populations; emergency livelihood kits that help people fish and grow vegetables need to be distributed. Africa’s land is being used by other countries to grow food grains for their own populations. This must stop.