World’s Largest Humanitarian Crisis Since the End of WWII


SEATTLE — The immediate threat of starvation and famine for more than 20 million people across Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeastern Nigeria has been called the “largest humanitarian crisis since the end of WWII.” If and when governments, organizations and individuals in developed nations step up to face this crisis, they will be able to do so because of the foundation laid down for humanitarian relief by organizations like the World Food Program and Oxfam.

Hardest hit is Yemen, which has been engaged in a civil war for the past two years. There, nearly 19 million people need food assistance. That’s two-thirds of the country’s population. Ten million of them face acute hunger, with no idea of from where their next meal is coming. In Somalia, threats of terrorism from Al-Shabaab have compounded the effects of drought, leaving more than half the population without enough food. In South Sudan, embroiled in its own civil war for more than three years, four out of ten people are food-insecure. In two of its counties, two out of every 10,000 people die from hunger each day. In northeastern Nigeria, some 2.6 million people face starvation. Most have been driven from their homes by the Boko Haram uprising that began seven years ago.

Meeting this largest humanitarian crisis since the end of WWII will take $4.4 billion in new aid, according to the United Nations humanitarian coordinator Stephen O’Brien. Because of the severity of the crisis, that money will need to be raised by July of this year.

That sounds like a very tall order in a very short timeframe, but – provided that developed nations raise the money – getting aid to those who need it will be made easier because of the foundation laid by humanitarian organizations like the WFP and Oxfam. Both have long been active in the region along with other relief agencies such as Save the Children, Action Against Hunger, Christian Aid, Catholic Relief Services, and the Danish and Norwegian Refugee Councils.

For example, last year the WFP, along with its partners, sent Integrated Rapid Response Mechanism (IRRM) teams on more than 400 missions to otherwise inaccessible locations in South Sudan. These missions provide food assistance each month to 500,000 people who can only be reached by air. In Somalia, the WFP is aiding the nearly three million people who cannot meet their daily food requirements, including more than 360,000 children who are acutely malnourished. For these children and their mothers, WFP provides specially fortified foods. In Yemen, where 3.3 million pregnant or nursing women and their children are acutely malnourished, WFP provides in-kind food assistance, as well as cash-based assistance in those areas of the country where markets still operate. In northeast Nigeria, where famine threatens 120,000 people, WFP provides both food assistance and cash transfers.

For its part, Oxfam is now assisting more than one million people in Yemen, another 600,000 in South Sudan and more than 200,000 in Nigeria. It has just sent a mission to Northern Somalia to assess needs as it makes plans to respond to the drought there.

Can the world community overcome the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of WWII? The need is obviously great. The humanitarian organizations, though, are in place to provide the aid. All that the developed world requires now is the will — especially the political will — to provide the $4.4 billion by July.

Robert Cornet

Photo: Flickr


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