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WFP mobilizing food to reach newly-arrived IDPs in southern Somalia. A biting drought has ruined the agricultural economy in the country / Photo: © World Food Programme

Twenty million people at risk of starvation in northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia

More than 20 million people are at risk of dying from starvation within six months in four separate famines, the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.

Conflicts in Yemen, northeastern Nigeria and South Sudan have devastated households and driven up food prices while a drought in Somalia has ruined the agricultural economy, the global organisation said.

In Yemen and South Sudan, economic collapse means people simply cannot afford the food that is available, WFP explains.

In Nigeria’s Borno state, where millions of people have fled Boko Haram militants, farming and produce markets have been disrupted, leaving people dependent on an overwhelmed emergency aid system.

WFP’s Deputy Director Peter Smerdon said his organization was air dropping food to areas of conflict it could not otherwise access.

The organisation is also making efforts to gain access to areas where conflicts are still raging.

“We try to do that through the parties involved in the conflict by getting them to accept that they need to let assistance into their areas because it is the right thing to do. If they don’t co-operate, large numbers of people in the areas they control will die,” he added.

Smerdon said the early warning systems in the last 20 years have really gotten a lot better, which is why the organization was issuing the alerts now to avoid mass casualties in the affected areas.

“We receive a lot of warnings when a famine is looming. We are using things like SMS and mobile phone services to reach people in areas in Yemen and South Sudan that are cut off from us reaching them.”

The WFP chief said to prevent the situation from reaching the state of famine in the affected countries, a serious look at the way politics is failing to deliver peace has to be taken.

“There has to be pressure from the international community on governments and rebel groups not to let the system fall into chronic prolonged conflict. That way, even if droughts come, if climate change comes, we should be able to cope with the situation before it becomes a famine.”

Felix Dappah

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