In Multiple Countries, Alarm over Hunger Crisis Rings Louder

The twin baby boys lay on a bed of woven palm leaves in a remote camp for displaced people in the north of Yemen, with their collar bones and ribs visible. They cried loudly, twisting as if in pain, not because of sickness, but because of hunger gnawing at them.

U.N. Here. Officials' increasingly dire warnings that there is an increasing hunger crisis around the world are becoming a reality, reports AP.

U.N. agencies have warned that some 250 million people in 20 countries are at risk of acute malnutrition or even famine in the coming months.

This week the United Nations Humanitarian Office has released $100 million in emergency funding to seven countries most at risk of famine—Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, the Congo, and Burkina Faso.

But David Beasley, head of the World Food Program, says billions in new aid are needed. Without it, “we are going to have famines of biblical proportions in 2021,” he said in an Associated Press interview last week.

In several countries, the coronavirus pandemic has added a new strain to the effects of ongoing conflicts, driving more people into poverty, unable to afford food. At the same time, foreign relief support has been cut short, weakening the safety net that keeps people alive.

In Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, Zemaray Hakimi said that he can only give his children one meal a day, usually rough, black bread dunked in tea. He lost his job as a taxi driver after obtaining COVID-19, and now he waits on the street every day for a day laborer who seldom comes.

When his children complain of hunger, he said, “I tell them to bear it. One day maybe we can get something better.”

South Sudan may be closer than any other country to famine, as crisis after crisis wears on a population depleted by five years of civil war. The U.N. projected earlier this year that a quarter of the population of Jonglei State, home to more than 1.2 million, would reach the brink of famine.

Now cut off from most of the world by floods that have impacted some 1 million people, many South Sudanese have seen farming and other food routines broken apart. The problems are so numerous that "plastic sheets are not available, as they were largely used for the previous flood response," the U.N. This week the humanitarian agency said.

COVID-19 has restricted trade and travel. Food prices rose. Post-war unrest remains deadly; gunmen recently fired on WFP boats carrying supplies.

“The convergence of conflict, macroeconomic crisis, recurrent flooding as well as the indirect impacts of COVID create a ‘perfect storm,’” the country director for the CARE aid group, Rosalind Crowther, said in an email. “Flooding and violence have led to massive displacement, low crop production and loss of livelihoods and livestock.”

 In the Arabian peninsula, Yemen is on a “countdown to catastrophe,” Beasley, of the WFP, warned the Security Council last week.

“Famine is truly a real and dangerous possibility and the warning lights are ... flashing red — as red can be,” he said.

Yemen has been the center of the world's worst food crisis for years, propelled by a devastating civil war between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who took over the north and capital, Sanaa, in 2014, and a Saudi-led coalition supporting the government in the south.

Two years ago, foreign assistance pulled it out of the drought. But the challenge emerged back this year, fuelled by rising violence and currency collapse that put food out of reach of growing numbers of people.

Donorve has been suspicious of new funding because of the corruption and limitations Houthis imposed on humanitarian workers. The United Nations. It had to slash in half the rations it provides to 9 million people—and face potential cuts to another 6 million in January.

The 18-month-old twins, Mohammed and Ali, weigh just around 3 kilograms, or 6.6 pounds, less than a third of their weight, according to their doctor.

Their father, Hassan al-Jamai, was a farmer in northern Hajjah province near the border with Saudi Arabia. Soon after their birth, the family had to flee fighting to a displaced camp in the district of Abs.

“We are struggling to treat them,” said Mariam Hassam, the twins’ grandmother. “Their father took them everywhere.”

Two-thirds of the population of some 28 million people in Yemen is hungry. U.N. in the south. Recent survey data indicate that cases of extreme acute malnutrition increased by 15.5 per cent this year and that at least 98,000 children under the age of five will die from it.

By the end of the year, 41 per cent of the 8 million people in the South are projected to have major food intake shortages, up from 25 per cent.

The situation could be worse in Sanaa and the north, home to more than 20 million people. The U.N. is currently conducting a similar survey there.

Sanaa’s main hospital, al-Sabeen, received over 180 cases of malnutrition and acute malnutrition the past three months, well over its capacities, according Amin al-Eizari, a nurse.

At least five children died at the hospital during that period, with more dying outside, he said.

In Afghanistan — like Yemen, crippled by war — the pandemic has meant further losses of jobs and mounting food prices. The poverty rate is expected to leap this year from 54% of the population of some 36 million to as high as 72%, according to World Bank projections.

Some 700,000 Afghan employees have returned from Iran and Pakistan this year, escaping coronavirus outbreaks. That stopped millions of dollars in remittances, the main income for families in Afghanistan, and the returnees flooded the ranks of those in need of work.

Markets in Kabul seem full of food items. But shop owners say fewer customers can afford anything. More people are experiencing major gaps in their food — expected to rise to 42% of the population by the end of the year, from 25%, according to U.N. figures.

Gul Makai sat beside her mud-brick hut in the Bagrami camp in the mountains surrounding Kabul. She had spent the night squeezing out the water and the mud after the roof had leaked in the recent snow. With early snowfall this year, temperatures have fallen below freezing.

Her 12 children, all 10 or younger, sat down with her, hungry and shivering in the cold breeze. They've all been tiny. One daughter, Neamat, about four, had a dried look that suggests malnutrition.

Makai fled seven months ago from her home in southern Helmand province after husband was killed in a crossfire between government forces and the Taliban. By begging, she scrounges up enough rice or hard bread to give her kids one meal a day. She eats every other day.

“The weather in winter will get colder,” she said. “If I don’t get help, my children may get sick, or God forbid I may lose any of them. We are in a bad condition.”

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