7897th Security Council Meeting: OCHA Briefing

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SIX OFFICIAL 10-Mar-2017 01:28:46
Amid humanitarian funding gap, 20 million people across Africa and Yemen are at risk of starvation, emergency relief chief warns Security Council at 7897th meeting.
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Twenty million people across four countries faced starvation and famine if the international community did not act quickly, the United Nations humanitarian chief warned the Security Council today, expressing alarm at the funding gap to meet the needs in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and north-eastern Nigeria.

Briefing the Council on his recent trips to all four countries, Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien recalled harrowing stories he heard from women and children fleeing fighting through waist-high swamps and rummaging the streets for something to eat.

“Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death,” he warned, stressing that the situation had deteriorated in all four countries amid environments of increased fighting, displacements, drought and attacks on schools and medical facilities. Attacks on humanitarians had also significantly hindered the delivery of much-needed supplies.

The situation in Yemen, which constituted the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, was particularly grim, he continued. Two thirds of the population — 18.8 million people — needed assistance and more than 7 million did not know where their next meal would come from. The country depended heavily on imports, but hostilities had damaged and destroyed infrastructure. Closure of the capital’s airport only worsened the situation. With $2.1 billion needed to reach 12 million people with life-saving aid, he voiced serious concern that only 6 per cent of that had been received thus far and urged Member States and donors to meet the target.

In South Sudan, more than 7.5 million people needed aid, up by 1.4 million from last year, he continued. Continued fighting had displaced some 3.4 million people and more than 1 million children were estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country. That included 270,000 children who faced the imminent risk of death if they were not reached in time.

In Somalia, more than half of the population — 6.2 million people — required humanitarian and protection assistance, he said. Some 2.9 million people were at risk of famine. In the last two months alone, nearly 160,000 people had been displaced due to severe drought conditions, adding to the already 1.1 million people who lived in appalling conditions around the country. Large parts of southern and central Somalia remained under the control or influence of Al-Shabaab. The security situation remained volatile.

Humanitarian partners had also scaled up their response to reach the most vulnerable in the Lake Chad region, particularly in north-east Nigeria. While donors had pledged millions, $1.5 billion was needed to provide aid across the Lake Chad region. “The warning call could not be understated,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Every life on the edge of famine and death was equally worth saving.”

In the ensuing discussion, Council members expressed serious concern over the deep insecurity faced by millions with the delegate from the United States saying that every member of the Security Council should be outraged that the world was confronting famine in the year 2017. She said that famine was a man-made problem with a man-made solution. In South Sudan, for example, responsibility lay squarely with the country’s leaders who continued to fight a senseless conflict while 5.5 million people faced severe hunger.

Members reiterated that the only solution to crises in those countries was a political one, and urged all parties to stop fighting and return to peace talks. The representative of Egypt, voicing concern about the current drought and famine threatening Somalia, pointed out that the “common denominator” in each of the countries was ongoing political crises. In regards to Somalia, regional efforts to combat that crisis would help ensure the delivery of aid.

Several speakers urged the need to address the funding gap to meet the humanitarian needs, with the representative of the United Kingdom urging Member States to “match our messages with our money”. More than 20 million people — nearly the entire population of Australia — risked starving to death in the coming months.

The representative of Senegal said that the looming famine in the Lake Chad Basin sub-region, as well as Somalia, could be averted if international partners acted quickly to end the proliferation of terrorist groups. Ukraine’s delegate echoed that sentiment, expressing concern over the sophistication of attacks carried out by Houthi-Saleh forces. Blocking weapons shipments to the forces in Yemen was essential to prevent further escalation of the conflict, he added.

Sweden’s representative deemed attacks on aid workers “totally unacceptable” and urged all parties from South Sudan to Yemen to allow humanitarians unimpeded access to civilians.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Russian Federation, France, Uruguay, Japan, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Italy, China and Ethiopia.

The meeting begain at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 4:32 p.m.
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