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Photo Credit: Paul Jeffrey | Catholic News Service

For 20 million people, conflict added to drought means no food to eat

Conflict and drought are threatening more than 20 million people in four countries with the prospect of famine, and the U.N. has called this food crisis the largest humanitarian crisis since the world body was formed more than 70 years ago.

Additional resources and funding are needed "to pull people back from the brink of famine" in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria, the U.N. Security Council wrote Aug. 9 in a statement that commended efforts by international donors to provide humanitarian assistance for the crises in these countries.

Catholic Church officials and representatives of Catholic aid agencies spoke with Catholic News Service about the enormous efforts being channeled into meeting the needs of those most vulnerable.

Some governments "are reducing aid, while needs are skyrocketing," said Elizabeth Carosella, who works for the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services in Abuja, Nigeria.

Humans can't control the weather patterns, such as drought. But increasingly, aid officials find access to areas of need blocked by ongoing conflicts or inaccessible because of poor infrastructure.

Yemen

Jerry Farrell, country representative in South Sudan for CRS, was Save the Children's country director in Yemen until mid-2014. He called the situation in Yemen "horrific," a famine that is entirely man-made. Seventy percent of the country's 14 million people need some form of humanitarian aid.

Yemen has relied entirely on imported food since 1991 and "now it is sealed off from the rest of the world," Farrell said. Yemen has been embroiled in civil war since 2015, which includes a Saudi-led blockade of the country.

Yemen's food system has collapsed, Farrell said, noting that even hospitals have been bombed, and it's "as difficult to get medical supplies into the country as it is to get food in." The World Health Organization reports 436,000 cases of cholera in Yemen.

South Sudan

In South Sudan, nearly 2 million people are on the cusp of famine, Farrell said, and it is hard to get food to the hungry because the country has "virtually no infrastructure." South Sudan, a country slightly smaller than Texas, has only 12,000 miles of road, which is "more like track than road," said Farrell, noting that "the lack of infrastructure can't be separated from the conflict."

In the fertile land of South Sudan's Western Equatoria state, which has avoided the drought afflicting other parts of the country, little grows because of the war, he said. And what is grown is tough to distribute.

"Fresh food rots because it takes weeks to get it out of there with tracks to follow instead of roads, and one can expect frequent ambushes along the way," Farrell said.

In 2013, two years after gaining independence from Sudan, South Sudan was caught up in a civil war. "South Sudan is a new country, rich in resources, and all this suffering is preventable," said Farrell.

Nigeria

In northeastern Nigeria, the effects of violent conflict as well as changing weather patterns have exacerbated poverty and led to 5 million people in need of emergency food aid, Carosella said, noting that deaths from famine-related causes have already occurred in Borno state. Since 2009, more than 20,000 people have been killed and 2.7 million forced to flee their homes by the Boko Haram insurgency, aimed at creating an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria.

While the severity of the region's hunger crisis is caused by conflict, the shorter rainy season of recent years has dramatically reduced harvests, and much of Lake Chad has dried up, partly because of shifting climate patterns.

Many of those forced to flee the violence have sought refuge among communities in the state capital, while others have been displaced in remote rural areas. Remote rural communities hosting people displaced by Boko Haram attacks have been "immensely generous despite their own poverty," she said.

Boko Haram attacks have disrupted trade. Even where food can be found, it is unaffordable for most people, Carosella said.

Somalia

Somalia's "continuous conflict and instability," along with changing weather patterns, are responsible for its current crisis, Lane Bunkers, CRS country representative for Kenya and Somalia, said.

The conflict started in 1991 when clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre, then turned on each other. Today, the security threat posed by al-Shabab activity in south-central Somalia makes it difficult for CRS and others running emergency food programs to reach remote rural communities, Bunkers said.

Somalia is a "very undeveloped country that relies on rain, with rain-fed pasturelands," and there has been insufficient rain for two years in a row, Bunkers said.

Drought conditions in Somalia are expected to continue, and recovery will not be until at least 2018, CRS wrote in a statement. More than 766,000 people have been displaced by the drought since November. 

RELATED ARTICLE(S):Bishops appeal for help in East African famine

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