IT should be making more headlines but it isn’t. There are many good reasons why it should be all over our news pages, and very few to justify why it’s not. The most obvious reason as to why this story should have greater news prominence is that more than 20 million lives hang in the balance, among them 1.4 million children of whom 600,000 could die in the next three to four months. It’s not as if there has been any shortage of warnings either. In March this year Stephen O’Brien, United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, spelt out the magnitude of the crisis.
“We stand at a critical point in history. Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations,” O’Brien warned.
In a powerful speech to the UN Security Council, O’Brien explained in the clearest terms possible that without collective global efforts, people will simply starve to death. He told of how many more would die from disease and that children would be left out of school.
As communities’ resilience “rapidly wilted away", he described how livelihoods, future and hope will be lost, countless numbers displaced and forced to move in order to survive, creating even more instability cross entire regions.
In the lexicon of the international humanitarian community it has been dubbed the “four famines". In short, a brutal hunger, the combined result of drought and war, has four nations in its grip.
For the first time since anyone can remember, there is a very real possibility of four famines in Yemen, South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria and Somalia breaking out at once. Such is the severity of the crisis that it has prompted an unprecedented response from the aid community. Agencies usually raise funds on their own. But in the last few weeks, eight international aid organisations, including Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee have banded together to form a Global Emergency Response Coalition and Hunger Relief Fund.
The aid community is facing a daunting challenge, not just in responding on the ground, but also in getting the world to sit up and take notice in the first place. “We can’t seem to get anyone’s attention on what’s going on,” Carolyn Miles, the president and chief executive of Save the Children, told the Washington Post recently.
Others point to factors they see as providing part of the explanation for such disinterest. “Politicians around the world are very focused domestically on politics at home, not on international issues,” says Justin Forsyth, a deputy executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), whose views are echoed by other UN officials.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” admits David Beasley, a former United States governor who now heads the UN World Food Programme. “The last eight to 10 months the world has been distracted. It’s all Trump, Trump, Trump, and here we are in crisis mode.”