Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the high-level event on famine prevention and response, in New York today:
I thank the World Bank for co-hosting this event and I thank all of you for being here to express your solidarity with some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
Nearly seven months have passed since my Call to Action to respond to the threat of famine in South Sudan, Somalia, north-east Nigeria and Yemen.
Since then, donors and partners have stepped up and taken action. Of the $4.9 billion required to cover urgent humanitarian operations, 60 per cent has been received. Humanitarian agencies and their partners are reaching close to 30 million people each month with life-saving food, livelihood support, health, water and sanitation and nutrition assistance. The Central Emergency Response Fund was one of the earliest sources of funding, releasing nearly $130 million to support early action and famine prevention activities.
So far, this coordinated action by Governments, agencies, donors and non-government agencies has held famine at bay. But I think it is important to recognize that famine is a technical definition. To keep famine at bay doesn’t mean to keep suffering at bay. So, millions and millions of people suffer, millions and millions of people are not food secure, and we have people dying at this very moment. So to a certain extent, we can recognize that we were able to keep famine at bay, but let’s also be honest, we have not been able to keep suffering at bay.
Development partners have also stepped up, working together with humanitarian agencies to intervene earlier, linking emergency relief to long-term activities. Their engagement is vital to build resilience, break the cycle of risk and vulnerability, and avoid dependency on emergency aid. And I want to say that our partnership with the World Bank has reached a remarkable level and that the World Bank has been extremely important to make sure that what we do today has a future, and that it is not something that unfortunately [might] allow people to go back to the same kind of terrible situation in which they were. So I want to take advantage of the presence of the President of the World Bank to express our very deep gratitude and appreciation for his exemplary partnership.
While we have avoided famine so far, we must recognize that this crisis is not over. There is much more still be done. In each of the four countries, people’s needs have deepened since February.
In South Sudan, 6 million people are now severely food insecure — an increase of 1 million, and more than half of the population. In Somalia, 3.1 million people are now unable to meet their daily food needs — an increase of 200,000 since the Call to Action. In Yemen, the scene of the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world, a staggering 17 million people are now food insecure, 6.8 million of whom are one step away from famine.
And in north-east Nigeria, around 5.2 million people are severely food insecure and in need of emergency assistance. Of an estimated 450,000 children who will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year, one in five is likely to die without specialized treatment. Many others will suffer stunting and developmental challenges for their whole lives.
So, we have done a lot, but let’s be honest, we have not been able to solve the dramatic problem we are facing. Unfortunately, despite the generosity of some donors, funding has not kept pace with these overwhelming needs. $1.8 billion is still urgently needed, and that figure is expected to increase by the end of the year. This funding is not only to relieve immediate needs, but to kick-start long-term development solutions that will reduce needs, risks and vulnerability.
The most important factor behind these four hunger crises is simple, and it was said already today. That factor is: Conflict. These crises all resulted from protracted conflict, failure to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law, and lack of safe and sustained humanitarian access to people who need help.
In South Sudan, an estimated 1,800 people are forced to flee to Uganda every day. At least 18 humanitarian aid workers have been killed this year. In Somalia, around 1.9 million people in need are in areas controlled by Al-Shabaab, where delivery routes are inaccessible. In north-east Nigeria, hundreds of thousands of people are extremely difficult to reach because of Boko Haram’s attacks. And in Yemen, quantities that are able to enter the country are insufficient and access is limited in some parts of the country.
We must do better, and we have no time to lose. Humanitarian aid is saving lives. But a long-term solution depends on ending and preventing conflict.
I urge you all to do whatever you can to influence the parties to the conflicts to abide by international law, to protect civilians and to allow humanitarians safe access to deliver emergency food, nutritional aid, and other urgent relief to those in need. I call on the parties themselves to pursue their ambitions through peaceful means and to spare civilians the agony and lifelong effects of hunger and famine.