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6th Jun 2020

Interview

UN: Over half a million children risk dying of hunger

Over half a million children will soon die in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, if food is not delivered.

"We are not talking about fake news here, we are talking about 600,000 children who are literally going to die in the next three to four months," David Beasley, who heads the World Food Programme (WFP), told EUobserver earlier this week.

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The stark warning comes ahead of a WFP funding shortfall that risks further aggravating what Beasley has described as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Beasley, who was in Brussels as part of a tour to raise funds, said that the Rome-based humanitarian organisation needs just under €1 billion for the next six months to feed 17 million people in all four countries.

Of those, around 1.4 million are severely malnourished children.

Cuts in funding in 2015 among EU states to the organisation, a branch of the United Nations, are said to have deepened the problem.

Saudis should fund aid to Yemen

The EU and member states are starting to pay more, but other countries around the world are falling behind, Beasley said.

"If you are not going to give us the money we need to feed the children, the people, then stop the conflict," he said, referring to a Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.

To fund all aid for Yemen, Beasley said he would be launching an appeal to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States.

"The Saudis ought to be funding 100 percent of the humanitarian needs there, no question. The Gulf States need to be stepping up more," he said.

"I'm not talking about pledging, I am talking about writing the cheques," he added.

In regard to South Sudan, he said around 1 million refugees are now in northern Uganda, displaced by an ongoing civil war.

"It is not fair for other nations and countries to bear the burden of their conflict," he said.

Similar appeals had been made in 2014 when every EU member state, with the exception of The Netherlands, had slashed contributions to the WFP.

The move forced the organisation to halve assistance to almost 1.3 million Syrian refugees in the region at the time.

It also, according to the European Parliament in 2015, helped trigger an exodus of Syrian refugees towards the EU.

“Faced with such harsh conditions who can blame people for seeking a safe haven in Europe”, said the EU parliament president at the time, Martin Schulz.

Food insecurity forces people to flee

A WFP study, out earlier this year, also found that food insecurity and armed conflict are among the top reasons for people fleeing to seek refuge elsewhere.

The study noted that a one percent rise in hunger levels forces up to 200 out of every 10,000 people to leave the country.

Beasley say man-made conflicts are now the primary driver behind the food crisis. Out of the top 13 countries struggling to feed their people, 10 are ravaged by war.

The EU has given around €200 million to the organisation so far this year.

Beasely said he was also able to secure money from the US, despite overall cuts in development aid by the administration of US president Donald Trump.

"The United States is a huge issue, that's the 800 pound gorilla. I mean they are, what, 30 to 40 percent of the total [WFP] funding," he said.

The US congress recently passed a supplemental appropriations bill, with $990 million dedicated to famine relief, he said.

Beasely, a former governor of South Carolina, described the US move as a ray of light amidst the darkness, and said that president Trump understood the broader implications of famine.

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