People in four food insecurity “hotspots” inside Burkina Faso, northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, need help urgently to avoid sliding into famine, UN humanitarians said on Friday.
“We are concerned that they may be facing an elevated risk of famine if the situation would further deteriorate over the coming months”, said Claudia Ah Poe, senior food security adviser at the World Food Programme (WFP), speaking at a press conference at UN Geneva.
In a joint alert with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), WFP also warned that 16 other countries also face a “major (food) emergency – or series of emergencies” in the next three to six months.
The drivers of these humanitarian crises include long-running conflict and a lack of humanitarian access to communities in need; climate extremes and the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, they said in a new report on food insecurity hotspots.
At-risk nations include Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where 22 million people are acutely food insecure, the highest number ever registered for a single country – Ethiopia, Haiti and Venezuela.
“These countries already had significant acute food insecurity levels in 2020…and are now facing a risk of a further rapid deterioration over the next months”, said WFP’s Ah Poe.
Underscoring the level of need in the three African countries found to be among the four most at risk of famine, WFP spokesperson Tomson Phiri highlighted how people’s dire situation was linked to an insurgency in northern Burkina Faso and northeastern Nigeria.
Years of conflict had also created chronic vulnerability in South Sudan, made worse by this year’s catastrophic flooding Mr. Phiri added. “People have lost assets, people have lost their capability to cope with any shocks. We had …unprecedented floods this year; floodwaters were submerging whole towns, people are struggling, the harvest that was just about to come in.”
Further data from March to September has also shown that while in many countries COVID-19-related restrictions were progressively lifted, allowing economic activity to resume, food insecurity has worsened in 27 countries, with up to 104.6 million people in need.
In 2019, the number of people facing similar levels of food insecurity in these 27 countries was 97.6 million, according to WFP.
“In those 27 countries, the number of people that are already facing acute food insecurity are (sic) more than 100 million already. Analysis obviously is continuously ongoing so we except this number to increase much more,” said WFP’s Ah Poe. “And earlier on this year, we… had estimated in the countries where we are operating – which is around 80 countries – an additional 121 million people would be at risk of falling into food insecurity.”
Speaking via video link from Rome, FAO senior food crises analyst, Luca Russo, recalled that the main objective of the alert was to avert a humanitarian catastrophe by identifying the many factors that contribute to famine, and which specific actions would help vulnerable communities most.
In 2011, famine was declared in southern Somalia in July, but most people had already died by May, he said.
“The moment you declare a famine it is already too late to act, in the sense that we saw this in the past, with Somalia when the famine was declared, already 260,000 people had died…so we want to raise an early warning before the famine occurs.”
Echoing that message, FAO’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience, Dominique Burgeon, called for urgent action from the international community.
“We are deeply concerned about the combined impact of several crises which are eroding people’s ability to produce and access food, leaving them more and more at risk of the most extreme hunger”, he said. “We need access to these populations to ensure they have food and the means to produce food and improve their livelihoods to prevent a worst-case scenario.”
Famine risk ‘in all four parts of the world’
WFP Director of Emergencies Margot van der Velden, also cautioned that the world is at a “catastrophic turning point”, with the risk of famine in four different parts of the world at the same time. “When we declare a famine, it means many lives have already been lost. If we wait to find that out for sure, people are already dead,” she said.
Famine is defined as the most severe type of hunger, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) measure, which humanitarians use to gauge food security levels on a scale of one to five.
A declaration of famine – IPC 5 – only refers to areas where “at least one in five households has or is most likely to have an extreme deprivation of food”, as per the IPC definition, and where “significant mortality, directly attributable to outright starvation or to the interaction of malnutrition and disease, is occurring or will be occurring”.
Africa faces 470 million COVID-19 vaccine shortfall this year
Africa needs around 470 million doses to accomplish the global of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of its population by the end of the year, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
The international COVAX initiative aimed at guaranteeing global access to the vaccines, recently announced that it was being forced to slash planned deliveries to Africa, by around 150 million doses this year.
The scheme is now expected to deliver 470 million doses through the end of December. These will be enough to protect just 17 per cent of the continent, far below the 40 per cent target.
To reach the end-year target, that 470 million figure needs to double, even if all planned shipments via COVAX and the African Union are delivered.
Export bans, vaccine hoarding
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said that “export bans and vaccine hoarding have a chokehold on vaccine supplies to Africa.”
“As long as rich countries lock COVAX out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals. The huge gap in vaccine equity is not closing anywhere near fast enough. It is time for vaccine manufacturing countries to open the gates and help protect those facing the greatest risk,” Ms. Moeti said.
Besides export bans, challenges in boosting production and delays in approvals have constrained deliveries. COVAX has called for donor countries to share their supply schedules to give more clarity on deliveries.
The initiative has also called for countries with enough doses, to give up their place in the queue. Manufacturers must deliver in line with their prior commitments, and countries that are well-advanced must expand and accelerate donations.
About 95 million more doses are set to arrive in Africa via COVAX throughout September, which will be the largest shipment the continent has taken on board for any month so far. Just 50 million people, or 3.6 per cent of its population, has been inoculated to date.
Only around 2 per cent of the nearly 6 billion doses administered globally have gone to Africans. The European Union and the United Kingdom have vaccinated over 60 per cent of their populations and high-income countries have administered 48 times more doses per person, than low-income nations.
“The staggering inequity and severe lag in shipments of vaccines threatens to turn areas in Africa with low vaccination rates into breeding grounds for vaccine-resistant variants. This could end up sending the whole world back to square one,” warned Ms. Moeti.
WHO is ramping up support to African countries to identify and address gaps in their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts.
The agency has assisted 15 countries in conducting intra-action reviews and offered recommendations for improvements. The reviews have shown that vaccine supply security and uncertainty around deliveries has been a major impediment.
With over 300 staff in place across Africa supporting the COVID-19 response, WHO is deploying experts and producing support plans in specific areas, including securing staff, financing, strengthening supply chains and logistics and boosting demand for vaccines.
As of 14 September, there were 8.06 million COVID-19 cases recorded in Africa and while the third wave wanes, there were nearly 125,000 new cases in the week ending on 12 September.
This represents a 27 per cent drop from the previous week, but weekly new cases are still at about the peak of the first wave, and 19 countries continue to report high or fast-rising case numbers.
Deaths fell by 19 per cent across Africa, to 2,531 reported in the week to September 12th. The highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 31 African countries.
Eritrea: Release journalists and politicians arrested 20 years ago
The Eritrean authorities must immediately and unconditionally release 21 journalists and politicians who were arrested in a sweeping crackdown on dissent 20 years ago, said Amnesty International as it launched a new campaign #WhereAreEritreasDissidents
The arrests of the journalists between 21 and 23 September 2001 followed the arrest on 18 September 2001 of politicians popularly known as G-15 and the banning of independent media after they had published an open letter urging reforms.
“It is unconscionable that these brave prisoners of conscience are still languishing in jail 20 years since they were arrested for exercising their human rights, with no word from the authorities on their current circumstances, and that the ban on independent media remains in place,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.
“Days have turned into months, months into years and now years have turned into decades of unending anguish for these detainees, their families and loved ones. We call on President Isaias Afewerki to take meaningful steps to bring an end to this travesty of justice.”
The journalists arrested between 21 and 23 September 2001 are Dawit Isaak, Seyoum Tsehaye, Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab, Fesseaye “Joshua” Yohannes, Amanuel Asrat and Temesegn Gebreyesus, Said Abdelkader, Yosuf Muhamed Ali and Medhanie Haile. The politicians – all members of Isaias’ ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) – include former Vice-President Mahmoud Ahmed Sheriffo and his wife and independence war heroine Aster Fissehatsion, and former foreign ministers Haile Woldetensae and Petros Solomon. Nine of the politicians and journalists have previously been reported to have died in detention, a claim the Eritrean authorities refuse to confirm.
“There are also many other politicians, journalists and activists that were arrested and detained without charge before September 2001 and since then and they must be released too,” said Deprose Muchena
Some of the high-profile detainees in Eritrea include former Finance Minister Berhane Abraha, who was arrested in September 2018 following his publication of a book considered critical of President Isaias, and Ciham Ali, the daughter of the defected former Minister of Information Ali Abdu, who was arrested in 2012 aged 15, as she tried to flee the country.
Amnesty International has documented extremely poor prison conditions in Eritrea, in some cases amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Prisons in Eritrea are generally overcrowded, with inadequate water and sanitation facilities and providing poor-quality food and drinking water.
Multiple reports of alleged human rights violations in Tigray
UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet on Monday deplored “multiple and severe reports of alleged gross violations of human rights, humanitarian and refugee law” committed by all parties to the conflict in Tigray.
In an update to the UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR) on the situation in the northernmost regional state in Ethiopia, Ms. Bachelet said the conflict has “continued unabated,” and “risks spilling over to the whole Horn of Africa”.
In the last few months, “mass detentions, killings, systematic looting, and sexual violence” have created “an atmosphere of fear and an erosion of living conditions that resulted in the forced displacement of the Tigrayan civilian population. Civilian suffering is widespread, and impunity is pervasive, she said.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also informed the Council on progress made in the joint investigation by the OHCHR and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) following the conclusion of the fieldwork phase of the report.
The full range of information collected is currently being analysed, but Ms. Bachelet said it was already clear that cases documented comprise multiple allegations of human rights violations.
These included attacks on civilians, extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. Sexual and gender-based violence has also included gang rapes, sexualised torture and ethnically targeted sexual violence.
Violations by all parties
According to Ms. Bachelet, Government forces and their allies continue to be implicated in allegations of human rights violations.
Reports also suggest that people of Tigrayan ethnicity have been detained by law enforcement officials on ethnic grounds, mostly in Addis Ababa.
She noted that incitement to hatred and discrimination were also documented targeting people of Tigrayan ethnicity, as well as attacks on journalists and the suspension of media outlets’ licenses and shutdowns of Internet and telecommunications in Tigray.
Ms. Bachelet added that Tigrayan forces have also allegedly been responsible for attacks on civilians, including indiscriminate killings resulting in nearly 76,500 people displaced in Afar and an estimated 200,000 in Amhara.
More than 200 individuals have reportedly been killed in the most recent clashes in these regions, and 88 individuals, including children, have been injured, she said.
There have also been reports of the recruitment of children into the conflict by Tigrayan forces, which is prohibited under international law.
Avoid national division
Ms Bachelet urged the Government of Ethiopia to accept the recommendations of the joint investigation report that will be issued on 1 November 2021 and to give human rights and humanitarian actors unhindered access. She called for all parties to immediately end hostilities and negotiate a lasting ceasefire to “avoid the risk that Ethiopia will be torn apart”.
The largest single shipment of humanitarian cargo to date has been airlifted to Ethiopia by the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN agency said on Monday.
85 metric tons of life-saving medical supplies were flown by a charter flight from WHO’s Logistics Hub based in Dubai to in Addis Ababa on Friday. The supplies, including essential medicines, trauma and emergency surgery kits, infusions, consumables, equipment, and cholera kits, are enough to address the urgent needs of more than 150 000 people.
“This delivery will help bolster our efforts to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of families who are grappling with a difficult humanitarian situation,” said Dr Boureima Hama Sambo, WHO Representative in Ethiopia.
Currently, nearly 2.5 million people are in need of health assistance from WHO and partners. The shipment to Ethiopia wrapped up a historic week for the WHO Dubai Logistics Hub. Four times the weekly average has been dispatched with over 450 metric tons of medical supplies valued at more than $ 4.3 million in support of cholera outbreak response in Nigeria, critical shortages of medicines in Afghanistan, and trauma and surgical supplies to Syria and Yemen.
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