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“A critical point in our history”

20 million people on brink of famine as Trump prepares major cuts to U.N. aid

20 million people on brink of famine as Trump prepares major cuts to U.N. aid

Over 20 million people in four different countries — Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen — are on the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.

“We stand at a critical point in our history. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death,” Stephen O’Brien, undersecretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs, told the U.N. Security Council on Friday.  

But the mounting crises come at a time when traditional leaders in humanitarian aid look to scale back on their foreign aid spending. President Donald Trump aims to cut more than 50 percent of U.S. funding to the United Nations, Foreign Policy magazine reported Monday evening. U.N. expert Richard Gowan told the magazine that such a move would instantly stir “chaos.”

The drastic cuts would be in keeping with previous proposals reportedly floating within the Trump administration. Trump is said to be looking to cut State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) budgets by 37 percent, Politico reported last week. And the U.S. isn’t the only country planning to cut back on humanitarian aid efforts: The United Kingdom is set to cut its foreign aid budget as well before 2020.

These significant cutbacks at a time of extraordinary humanitarian crisis would only be made worse by increased military actions abroad, warns Human Rights Watch.

“A budget that slashes State Department and USAID funding, while further expanding the Pentagon, shows Trump is intent on undermining U.S. government agencies that address pressing human rights issues, most of which are not dealt with by military force,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

The four countries facing encroaching famine all share one thing in common: extreme conflict.

Yemen

Yemen was already the poorest country in the Arab world before civil war let loose more than two years ago. The complicated and multifaceted internal conflict has left thousands of civilians dead and millions more displaced.

Some 7 million Yemenis don’t even know where their next meal will come from and nearly 19 million need humanitarian assistance, according to the U.N. The situation is made worse by the lack of crucial humanitarian aid reaching Yemen, which continues to be blocked by the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition.  And climate issues play a big part in the crisis: Water shortages and dry weather have diminished crops and inhibited agricultural efforts, according to The World Bank.

Read more: Trump unleashed 40 airstrikes over five days in Yemen

South Sudan

South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, at just five years old, but it has faced conflict since the very beginning. From civil war to U.N.-declared ethnic cleansing, the country and its citizens have faced constant conflict. The U.N. recently declared South Sudan’s famine “man-made,” putting 7.5 million in need of aid. And 4.9 million people are in need of urgent food assistance, according to the World Food Programme.

Nearly 3.4 million people have been displaced internally from the constant fighting, according to the U.N., and citizens of the country are still waiting for their president to properly implement a peace deal that was signed in 2015, and which has been all but dashed

Read moreSouth Sudan’s civil war pushes the country toward famine

Nigeria

Boko Haram has plagued Nigeria’s northeast, an underdeveloped region that was already prone to food insecurity, in recent years sowing instability that has internally displaced 1.8 million Nigerians and put 4.7 million more in need of emergency food aid, according to the World Food Programme.

Nearly half a million children under the age of 5 are now at risk of severe acute malnutrition, according to UNICEF, with nearly 20 percent starving to death if aid demands aren’t met.   

Conflict isn’t the only cause of famine in Nigeria, however. The country also faces repeated droughts and floods that make it difficult for people to better their lives through agriculture, as reported by the World Food Programme.

Somalia

Somalia has a history of conflict and foreign intervention, which has left the country in unstable conditions for over two decades. Its food security is being threatened again by encroaching drought and persistent conflict, according to the World Food Programme. Terror group al-Shabaab has only made matters worse by blocking humanitarian agencies from entering the country and stealing foreign aid.

About 3 million Somalis are currently in need of urgent food assistance and over 1.2 million are displaced due to conflict as of 2015, according to the International Displacement Monitoring Centre. The country’s president recently declared the drought in Somalia a national disaster, according to Al Jazeera, which has made growing crops difficult and exacerbated food shortages.

Aid experts fear that if steps aren’t taken immediately, this famine will be more devastating than 2011’s, when 250,000 people died.

Read more: Somalia’s new president inherits a country on the brink of disaster and famine

Cover: (REUTERS/Feisal Omar)

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