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The Worst Human Crisis Since World War Two

America turns its back on the world’s starving – will the G20 come to the rescue?

Credit: Yuriy Boyko Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • More than 20 million people in Africa face death by starvation, but America is turning its back.
  • The crisis in Africa is unlikely to receive more than a paragraph of generalities in a long final G20 communiqué.
  • The World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization lack sufficient funds to meet urgent demands.
  • Millions of Africans strive to flee from war and hunger. As the crises develop, the number of migrants multiplies.
  • The urgency of the situation must be better understood – and much more prominently reported in the world’s media.

More than 20 million people in Africa face death by starvation, but America is turning its back.

In a heated set of exchanges in a U.S. Senate hearing, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended the Trump Administration’s plan to cut U.S. foreign aid by 29% and U.S. support for humanitarian programs at the United Nations.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham demanded to know how the U.S. could demonstrate leadership and yet go ahead with the draconian cuts given many pressing overseas crises, especially the African catastrophe. Tillerson responded at one point by declaring that there are no easy choices. Then he added, “other countries must do more.”

The new face of American global leadership

When pressed further by other senators to explain how the Trump Administration can be a diplomatic power while massively reducing the State Department’s budget, Tillerson declared, without elaboration: “Our budget will never determine our ability to be effective,” he said. “Our people will.”

It comes as David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Program, says: “We are facing the worst human crisis since World War Two.”

Mr. Beasley adds: “We are looking at 600,000 children dying in the next six months and double that number in the next year.”

José Graziano da Silva, Director-General, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, puts it simply in noting our challenge “is to save lives.”

These men speak with authority and run two of the largest international human relief agencies. You might think that what they have to say, especially now, would have an impact. But they are, in fact, far off to the sidelines in international power politics today.

Unless their voices can capture the imagination of the world’s leaders at the center of the stage very soon, then Beasley’s desperate warning will be a reality.

World leaders must lead

The Summit of the Group of 20 world leaders takes place in Hamburg on July 7 and 8. Right now the rapidly unfolding crisis in Africa is unlikely to receive more than a paragraph of generalities in a long final communiqué.

President Trump, President Macron, Prime Minister May, President Putin and their other G20 colleagues are all so consumed with their own domestic politics that they are guilty of neglecting millions of desperate people who are the victims of man-made crises.

I have written before about the prospect of 20 million deaths in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan due to starvation that results from the combination of grand corruption and extreme violence.

The latest analysis from the United Nations suggests that 20 million might be a low figure. 2017 will be terrible; 2018 may be worse.

This is not just a crisis of starvation, it is also a crisis of migration. Millions of Africans are striving to flee from the war-zones and the crush of hunger. As the crises develop, so the number of migrants multiplies.

“There is a direct correlation between conflict and food insecurity – the greater the food insecurity, so the greater the pressure to migrate,” says David Beasley.

Interlinked crises

The strongest and the most daring migrants find their way to North Africa and to Turkey and to boats that they hope can carry them to Europe. The numbers will continue to multiply and as they do, so European leaders will have to find practical responses.

Mr. da Silva says that Africa has enough food, but storage and transportation are crucial problem areas. Food production in about 13 African countries is far from adequate.

Resolving the immediate crisis demands that farmers get sufficient seeds to plant and that they find support to protect their livestock – ensuring that murderous gangs do not steal and kill the animals and that vaccines are available to prevent disease.

About 8 out of 10 people who are now most vulnerable are in rural areas and if they are to have any hope, then they must be able to continue to produce food for themselves. Urgent humanitarian relief is important, but not sufficient.

Both the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization lack sufficient funds to meet the rising urgent demands.

Mr. da Silva acknowledges that corruption and war are the real villains, but he stresses, speaking for the international community’s response: “We dare not come late – yes, we need peace, but we cannot wait for peace to take place. The people need support now.”

So, why is the international response far from adequate right now?

Will the G20 wake up?

Beasley and da Silva head agencies that have outstanding experience and skills – and employees of great courage who are operating in the midst of war zones – and they need cash urgently. So too do many not-for-profit humanitarian relief organizations.

But I do not think this suffices. The G20 can muster the power and the authority to try and intervene – at least in Yemen and in South Sudan – to press for peace. At a minimum they need to call for a break in hostilities sufficient to address the immediate starvation and health crises in these countries.

The urgency of the situation must be better understood – and much more prominently reported in the world’s media. Just consider these facts from a June 5 analysis by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organizations:

• 5.2 million people will face acute severe food insecurity in northeastern Nigeria (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States) during the next lean season – immediate intervention is required to assist these populations.

• Somalia – Over half of the country’s population – 6.7 million people – are now acutely food insecure, half a million more than in February 2017.

• With an estimated 17 million people in Emergency or Crisis levels of food insecurity, Yemen is currently facing one of the worst hunger crises in the world. After two years of deadly civil war, more than two-thirds of the population are struggling to feed themselves and urgently require life- and livelihood-saving assistance.

• Famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan, where 90 000 people are affected, and more than 5.5 million people will not have any reliable source of food by July.

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About Frank Vogl

Frank Vogl is co-founder of Transparency International and author of Waging War on Corruption: Inside the Movement Fighting the Abuse of Power. [Washington D.C., United States]

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