The United Nations said Thursday it has released $100 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to help millions facing hunger in South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen.
Millions in these seven countries cannot feed themselves and their families because of armed conflict, drought, and economic turmoil made worse by COVID-19.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also said the spillover effects of the war in Ukraine threaten to drive millions of people even closer to famine.
OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke told VOA Yemen, South Sudan, and Somalia are already in what the United Nations calls a Phase 5 emergency – catastrophic hunger or famine.
“Other countries—Nigeria, Sudan, and Kenya for example—Ethiopia as well—we have millions of people who are just one step away from this catastrophic phase,” he said. “And we have to avoid that they end up in that phase because that is where people literally die from starvation and disease on our watch. If we have to avoid that, we need to act now.”
Ukraine and Russia are known as the “breadbasket of the world,” supplying nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley exports. The World Food Program said the war in Ukraine will increase global hunger.
It said the conflict is disrupting food and energy markets and driving food prices beyond consumers’ reach.
The United Nations launched appeals for each of the seven countries months ago for global total of $43 billion. Laerke said only 6.5% of this amount has been funded. He said the U.N. knows the $100 million it has made available for emergency relief will not solve the problems facing these countries.
“But it does plug a hole. It does cover a gap that is immediate, that is urgent, and that is absolutely necessary if we want to save lives in these countries,” he said. “And that is the function of Central Emergency Response Fund. It is kind of a provider of last resort.”
Laerke added that U.N. agencies hope donors will understand the situation facing these countries and support their humanitarian operations. If not, he said, drastic cuts will have to be made in critical projects.