The world has three or four months to save millions of people in Somalia and Yemen from starvation, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Combined with the food crises in northeast Nigeria and South Sudan, more than 20 million people will endure famine in the coming months.
“We have probably a window of three to four months to avoid a worst case scenario,” Dominik Stillhart, ICRC director of operations, said at a news conference in Geneva.
"We have a kind of perfect storm where protracted conflict is overlapped, exacerbated by natural hazard, drought in particular in the Horn of Africa that is leading to the situation we are facing now," he said.
Somalia is facing its third famine in a quarter of a century. The last one, in 2011, claimed 260,000 lives. Drought has also caused crop failures while attacks from the militant group al-Shabaab keeps the nation in political turmoil. More than 6.2 million people urgently need humanitarian aid.
Civil war has ravaged Yemen since 2015. According to the United Nations, 3.3 million people, including 2.1 million children are acutely malnourished. Continued airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition, including the United States, has devastated the country’s infrastructure and displaced 3 million people from their homes.
The UN officially declared a famine in South Sudan which is experiencing its own civil war. In Nigeria, 120,000 people face famine in the Boko Haram-controlled northeast.
The ICRC has received $100 million to address the crises in all four countries but says it needs $400 million more.
Even if funding needs are met, the agency recognizes solutions will be short-term.
“No amount of aid money will overcome political obstructionism and a failure to abide by the norms of warfare,” Stillhart said. “Ultimately, in these countries, famine is a by-product. […] It’s the conflict that renders agricultural land unusable, that forces people to flee their homes, and that destroys hospitals and other vital services.”
“Humanitarian access cannot be a bargaining chip,” added Robert Mardini, ICRC’s Middle East director. “To prevent famine, immediate action is needed.”