UN outlines 'new way of working in crisis' with $4.4B famine appeal for 4 countries

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, along with UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and Under Secretary-General Stephen O’Brien, at a press conference about famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and northeast Nigeria. Photo by: Rick Bajornas / United Nations

The United Nations has announced a $4.4 billion appeal to respond to the escalating risk of famine in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen in a move defined by strengthened coordination between development and humanitarian agencies.

United Nations Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark hailed the move as a “new way of working in crisis” that deals with short-term emergency needs as well as planning for a more sustainable future that would help avoid other disasters.

Aid workers are working across U.N. agencies and other multilateral organizations to respond to the short- and long-term needs of the 20 million people in the four countries that the U.N. has declared are on the “tipping point” of famine.

What’s needed, now, is the speedy delivery of the substantial resources that will help “avert catastrophe,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Guterres announced a combined U.N. appeal for $4.4 billion by the end of March to tackle food security, health, water sanitation and nutrition. Only $90 million has been received so far, explained Guterres, speaking alongside Clark, emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien and World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

“Funding shortages have already forced the World Food Programme to cut rations in Yemen by more than half since last year. Without new resources, critical shortages will worsen within months,” Guterres said. “These four crises are very different, but they have one thing in common. They are all preventable.”

In total, humanitarian operations in these four countries will require more than $5.6 billion this year. For context, the U.N.’s largest funding appeals — the Syrian Refugee and Resilience Plan, the Nigerian refugee, the Burundi and South Sudan refugee response plans — each total $5.6 billion. All remain funded at just 17 percent.

The hunger crises, while unique, also share a few other common factors, Guterres said. They are rooted in conflicts and are also exacerbated by some effects of climate change: desertification and water scarcity. While a famine has been declared in South Sudan — impacting approximately 100,000 people — 1 million more are considered to be facing immediate risk of famine, as well.

In northeast Nigeria, 5.1 million people urgently need food assistance; in Yemen, the number of people immediately is at 7.3 million; and in Somalia, 2.9 million immediately require food and livelihood aid, according to U.N. estimates.

Guterres has tasked the UNDP with establishing a steering committee that will link the U.N. agency with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee for humanitarian assistance, a membership coalition of leading U.N. and other organizations tasked with responding to emergencies.

“There is a total commitment on the part of the development actors to work extremely closely with OCHA and the humanitarian actors on a new way of working in crisis, which was agreed at the World Humanitarian Summit,” Clark said at the press briefing. “Clearly the primary objective here is to save lives in extremely dire circumstances and part of saving lives is building the resilience for the future.”

She gave the example of UNICEF and UNDP working together in Yemen on a project to support water distribution systems and agriculture production in work that is supported by the World Bank. In South Sudan, UNICEF, UNDP, the U.N. refugee agency and the Food and Agriculture Organization are joining forces on work to help reinvigorate access to basic services.

About 80 percent of the people in these affected areas remain dependent on agriculture, Carla Mucavi, the director of the FAO liaison office to the U.N., told Devex, explaining the need for a “twin-track approach” that emphasizes a long-term view of food security.

“It is really important of course to assist the people who are really in need and we are talking about millions of people. But, at the same time, we really have to work with them,” she said. “We need to assist those in need, because they have to be safe, but at the same time look at the future. If we invest… [it] means that we are really providing the future of these people because we can minimize the food insecurity and, of course, create conditions for stability.”

The U.N.’s capacity to reduce the risk of these hunger crises and thwart additional famines, a technical classification determined by a certain number of deaths per thousand people, remains dependent on funding capacity, Guterres said.

“Before it explodes, we are alerting the world to scale up to meet the requirements of this worsening situation we are now witnessing,” Guterres said. “I do believe governments will step up and other donors will step up and we will be able to fund the operations that already are taking place.”

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.