U.N. says 1.4 million children at imminent risk of death in famines

Nearly 1.4 million children are at “imminent risk” of death in famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said on Tuesday (February 21).

People are already starving to death in all four countries, and the World Food Programme says more than 20 million lives are at risk in the next six months.

Famine was formally declared on Monday (February 20) in parts of South Sudan, which has been mired in civil war since 2013. The conflict has increasingly split the country along ethnic lines, leading the United Nations to warn of a potential genocide.

UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said children are already dying from famine and that malnourished children are up to nine times more likely to die from diseases such as measles, malaria or cholera than a healthy child.

The organization is calling for funding as well as immediate and sustained access and for political solutions in the four countries concerned, which are all affected by conflicts.

“The fact is that these conflicts are largely manmade. Children are dying because of manmade conflict-affected disasters. In 2017, that’s shameful,” Mercado told Reuters TV in Geneva.

UNICEF said 270,000 children in South Sudan were severely malnourished. Save the Children, a charity, said on Monday (February 20) that more than 1 million children in South Sudan were at risk of starving.

South Sudan has also been hit by the same east African drought that has pushed Somalia back to the brink of famine, six years after 260,000 people starved to death in 2011.

UNICEF said 185,000 children were expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in Somalia this year, but the figure was likely to rise to 270,000 in the next few months.

Another 462,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Yemen, where two years of war have caused economic collapse and severe restrictions on shipping.

Famine has been ongoing since last year in parts of northeastern Nigeria, where the government is fighting the militant group Boko Haram. The number of children with severe acute malnutrition is expected to reach 450,000 this year, UNICEF said.