World’s richest urged to do more to keep millions from starving

World Food Programme chief warns famine possible in up to three dozen countries, decries situation in Yemen and DRC.

Risk of famine looms in Yemen
Conflict and poverty are exacerbating child malnutrition in Yemen [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

A lethal mix of conflict, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic is pushing millions of people around closer to starvation, the World Food Programme (WFP) chief has warned, urging wealthier nations and billionaires to help ensure their survival.

David Beasley told the UN Security Council on Thursday that famine was possible in up to three dozen countries and could overwhelm places already weakened by conflict.

He cited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where violence has increased and instability has already forced 15.5 million people near starvation. He also said a lack of funding has forced cutbacks in assistance to feed people in war-ravaged Yemen.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria and South Sudan, millions of more people have become food insecure because of the pandemic, he added.

Beasley said the response to a warning five months ago of a potential “hunger pandemic” had averted famine but said more was needed to help “the 270 million people marching toward the brink of starvation”.

‘Those who have most must step up’

The WFP needs $4.9bn to feed 30 million people who already rely solely on the UN programme for food to survive and will die without its assistance for a year.

“It’s time for those who have the most to step up, to help those who have the least in this extraordinary time in world history,” Beasley said.

“Worldwide, there are over 2,000 billionaires with a net worth of $8 trillion,” the former South Carolina governor said, noting reports that some of the wealthiest Americans have made “billions upon billions” during the pandemic.

According to the Business Insider, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and others all saw their wealth increase by billions since the pandemic began.

“I am not opposed to people making money, but humanity is facing the greatest crisis any of us have seen in our lifetimes,” Beasley said.

Yemen urgency

The situation is particularly critical in Yemen, which already faces the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

The UN estimates that three-quarters of Yemen’s population of 29 million depend on some form of aid for survival.

On Thursday, Kuwait announced it would donate $20m towards humanitarian aid for Yemen, two days after UN officials called the country for not honouring its pledges, according to diplomats cited by AFP news agency.

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah made the announcement during a videoconference meeting behind closed doors that was organised by Germany, Kuwait, Sweden and the United Kingdom. China, France, Russia, the United States and the European Union also participated.

Other countries announced aid pledges during the meeting, but details were not given, the diplomats said.

On Tuesday, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Mark Lowcock, warned the Security Council that the “spectre of famine has returned” in Yemen.

“Several donors – including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, who have a particular responsibility, which they have discharged in recent years – have so far given nothing” to this year’s aid plan, he said, in a rare direct rebuke of member states.

“It is particularly reprehensible to promise money, which gives people hope that help may be on the way, and then to dash those hopes by simply failing to fulfil the promise.”

Lowcock added: “Continuing to hold back money from the humanitarian response now will be a death sentence for many families.”

The internationally recognised government in Yemen has been battling the Houthi rebel group since 2014, when the rebels seized much of the north including the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led military coalition intervened on the side of the government the following year.

More than five years of war have claimed tens of thousands of lives, mostly civilians, and devastated the country’s infrastructure.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Thursday the conflict has reversed development in the impoverished country “by decades” and left state institutions at “the verge of collapse”.

Guterres added that despite initial expressions of support by the warring parties to his call on March 23 for a global ceasefire to deal with the pandemic, “the conflict continues unabated” and “in recent weeks, conflict has unfortunately escalated”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies