UNICEF warns that 1.4 million children could die from famine in four countries

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Famine in South Sudan

Almost 1.4 million children suffering from severe malnutrition could die this year from famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the UN children's agency has warned. Famine has been declared in South Sudan.

UNICEF, the United Nations children's agency, said on Monday that in Yemen 462,000 children were suffering from acute malnutrition. Some 450,000 children were severely malnourished in northeast Nigeria.

Fews Net, the famine early warning system, said some remote areas of Nigeria's Borno state had been affected by famine since late last year. Aid agencies have been unable to reach those in need and feared the situation will worsen.

Yemen: Girl recovers from malnutrition

Alarming evidence of misery in Yemen

This image of 18-year-old Saida Ahmad Baghili, sitting on her bed at Al-Thawra in the Red Sea Port city of Hodeida shows her malnourished, emaciated body. It has come to stand for the worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

Yemen: Girl recovers from malnutrition

Saida smiles - after weeks of treatment

Saida was transferred to a hospital in the capital, Sanaa. After weeks of hospital care, she can at least smile, though she can still barely speak and continues to find eating difficult at times. Her father is still worried: "She doesn't eat anything except liquid medical food. She used to drink juice and milk with bananas but now she can't. We don't know when she'll recover."

Yemen: Girl recovers from malnutrition

A lifelong condition

Doctors believe her condition has damaged her throat. When her family first brought Saida to a hospital, she could barely keep her eyes open or stand. "We admitted Saida to find out the cause of her inability to eat," her doctor said. "Her health issue remains chronic and her bones remain fragile due to stunted growth. In all likelihood, they will never return to normal."

Yemen: Girl recovers from malnutrition

Finally gaining weight

Her father, Ahmed, who is staying nearby to be with his daughter, said his daughter's weight has reached 16 kilograms (35 pounds), five kilos more than when she was first admitted to hospital. He said Saida's situation was alarming before the war, which began in March 2015. Yemen's crisis including widespread hunger was brought on by decades of poverty and internal strife.

Yemen: Girl recovers from malnutrition

Food insecurity

About half of Yemen's 28 million people are "food insecure," according to the United Nations, and 7 million of them do not now where they will get their next meal. The US-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network, run by the US Agency for International Development, estimated that a quarter of all Yemenis are probably in a food security "emergency" - one stage before "catastrophe" or famine.

Yemen: Girl recovers from malnutrition

Saida out of the hospital

The war has pushed the Arab world's poorest nation to the brink of famine and displaced over three million people. Areas worst affected by the conflict are parts of Taiz province and southern coastal areas of the Hodeida province, where Saida is from.

Yemen: Girl recovers from malnutrition

One reason for undersupply

Restrictions imposed on the entry of ships after the start of the war in Yemen had raised insurance premiums and cut the number of vessels entering the port by more than half. About a million tons of food supplies entered through Hodeida in 2015, a third as much as in 2014.

Yemen: Girl recovers from malnutrition

Yemeni women call attention to disaster

Yemeni women are holding banners depicting suffering, malnourished children. They protest against a UN roadmap for the Yemen conflict, which is calling for naming a new vice president after the withdrawal of the Houthi rebels from Sanaa. Since the beginning of the war, at least 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen.

UNICEF director Anthony Lake appealed for quick action. "We can still save many lives," he said.

Drought in Somalia has left 185,000 children on the brink of famine, with this figure expected to reach 270,000 in the next few months.

The UN said on Monday it was "scaling up assistance and protection" in Somalia, as about 6.2 million Somalis, or half the country's population, were in need of humanitarian assistance. 

Famine in South Sudan

Over 100,000 people are facing starvation in parts of violence-plagued South Sudan,three UN agencies said on Monday as they declared famine in parts of the country.

"A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger. The situation is the worst hunger catastrophe since fighting erupted more than three years ago," according to a statement by the World Food Programme (WFP), UN children's agency UNICEF and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

The drought has also affected food security in the world's youngest nation but the biggest contributor to the famine is the inability of aid agencies to reach areas where the economy has collapsed due to the war.

Over three years of war have left nearly five million people hungry in what aid groups have called a "man-made" tragedy.

Isaiah Chol Aruai, chairman of South Sudan's National Bureau of Statistics, said "The convergence of evidence shows that the long-term effects of the conflict coupled with high food prices, economic crisis, low agricultural production and depleted livelihood options" have resulted in 4.9 million people going hungry, Aruai said. That figure represents 42 percent of the country's population.

Aid agencies said the famine threatens to affect a further one million people in the coming months.

The UN has warned of potential genocide and ethnic cleansing and there is no prospect of peace in sight.

jbh/jm (AFP, dpa)