UK pledges $249M to South Sudan and Somalia in response to famine

A 2-year old drinks an infusion of neem tree leaves, used to treat coughs, diarrhea and vomiting, in Rumbek, South Sudan. The United Nations has declared a famine in the country. Photo by: Rocco Nuri / UNHCR

Editor’s Note: On Feb. 24, 2017, the U.K. Department for International Development clarified that the funds announced were not new funds, but rather funds that had not been previously allocated to humanitarian aid. Read more here. This article was previously updated on Feb. 22, 2017, to include additional funds committed for the crisis.

The U.K. has pledged 200 million British pounds ($249 million) in humanitarian aid to Somalia and South Sudan, after the United Nations declared a famine in South Sudan and issued famine warnings for Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria on Monday.

The announcement means that the U.K., European Union and Norway have together committed more than $342 million in emergency assistance for the crisis.

Drought and conflict are the main drivers for declining conditions in the region, and the new humanitarian aid will focus on providing food, water and emergency health care. The U.K. Department for International Development estimates this will save more than 1 million lives in each country, according to a press release.

Children face 'immediate risk of death' as famine looms in Yemen

Yemen's population is on the brink of an all-out food crisis as funding shortages, insecurity and overall logistics challenges make aid delivery a gargantuan task. The collapse of the country's economy and ongoing fighting portend for no relief in sight.

“While we step up our support for emergency food, water and lifesaving care to those in need, our message to the world is clear — we must act now to help innocent people who are starving to death,” Priti Patel, secretary of state for international development, said in a statement.

The support comes in addition to 82 million euros ($86.2 million) worth of emergency aid assistance pledged by the European Union on Tuesday. The aid will be directed to South Sudan and neighboring countries supporting refugees as a result of the famine. The government of Norway has also committed an extra 64 million krone ($7.6 million) of aid to Somalia, while the United Nations has released $18.5 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to assist in Ethiopia’s drought-stricken Somali region.

More than half the population of South Sudan — about 5 million people — are impacted by the famine, the World Food Programme said on Monday, with about 100,000 people at immediate risk of starving to death. The ongoing conflict continues to cut off access to food, safe drinking water and health care, and more than 3 million people have fled their homes in fear of violence.

An anonymous U.N. official without the authorization to speak publicly told the Telegraph that the South Sudanese government is in part to blame, claiming South Sudanese officials recently blocked or impeded the delivery of emergency food aid.

“This famine is man-made,” said Joyce Luma, head of the World Food Programme in South Sudan, in a press statement. “There is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security.”

In Somalia, approximately 6 million people lack access to food and the U.N. reports that more than 360,000 children are currently suffering from acute malnutrition. The World Food Programme said that early signs indicate the crisis in Somalia will be “as bad or worse” than the 2011 famine, which killed 260,000 people.

In addition to traditional humanitarian provisions, DfID will offer livelihood support to more than 650,000 people in South Sudan and vaccinations for livestock, it said in the press release.

However, it will not make new funds available to Yemen or Northern Nigeria at this stage, despite the U.N.’s warning that both regions are at high risk for food crises.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.