Seven hundred million people in the world – twice the number of people who live in the United States – are undernourished, according to Catholic Relief Services, the Church’s overseas aid agency.
Hunger is becoming more and more of a problem, and in some regions of the world, food insecurity is quickly moving into famine-like conditions.
At the same time, international funding to provide relief – for this and other humanitarian issues – is struggling to keep up.
Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who coordinates humanitarian aid through global refugee, health, food and children’s agencies, said this week that the UN is facing “the biggest funding gap we’ve ever seen, mostly because the number of vulnerable people who need support is increasing fast.”
Griffiths said that UN agencies and the private groups they work with need $48.7 billion in 2022 to assist more than 200 million people in need, but they have raised less than one-third of that.
As a result, camps for Syrian refugees in northern Iraq have had to cut access to clean water, sanitation and electricity. People forced from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo are without shelter or basic tools like fishing or farming gear. In South Sudan, there will be no secondary school this fall for some refugee children. And in Ethiopia, about 750,000 refugees risk having no food by October.
But one area of the world that seems to be receiving needed donations is Ukraine, where the now six-month war with Russia has led to thousands of civilian deaths, a massive amount of structural damage, and the largest European refugee crisis since the Second World War.
“The U.N. humanitarian office has asked for more than $6 billion this year specifically to aid Ukrainians, both refugees who have fled the country and those still within it; its first Ukraine appeal raised more than the amount requested, and its second is on its way to being fully funded,” the New York Times reported.
Compare that to the funding levels for humanitarian help in other countries:
- Haiti, 11%
- El Salvador, 12%
- Burundi, 14%
- Myanmar, 17%
- Ethiopia, 34%
- Yemen, 42%
Funding will be especially important in the Horn of Africa, where four years of drought have severely impeded peoples’ ability to grow crops. UN agencies warn that severe hunger is sliding toward famine-like conditions there.
“The World Food Program reports up to 22 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are facing severe hunger. It says hunger and the death of millions of livestock have forced more than 7 million people to leave their homes in search of food, water and grazing pasture for their cattle,” reported Voice of America.
Somalia is particularly in danger, and the WFP regional director for East Africa, Michael Dunford, said there is “a real risk of famine” there.
“It has not been declared yet, but already there are over 200,000 people in famine-like conditions, catastrophic levels of food insecurity, with another 1.4 [million] on the edge,” Dunford said. “So, unless we are able to continue to advocate to raise funding, to scale up our operations, then we will have, I fear, a famine to deal with.”
Fortunately, UN humanitarian appeals for Somalia have been funded so far for 2022 at 79%.
Addressing the crisis, Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Aloysius John, in a statement on World Humanitarian Day, August 19, said the world is facing a human tragedy in which “people are losing their right to live as dignified human beings.”
“We echo and support Pope Francis’ incessant cry to support integral ecology as a solution to the humanitarian crisis our world is facing,” John said. This is the only way out of this crisis.”
He urged political leaders to work to mitigate the negative impact of climate change, which he said is one of the primary root causes of humanitarian crises, and work to promote peace and reconciliation at the community level.
“We hope that this World Humanitarian Day will present all people with an opportunity to address the issue of fundamental human rights through appropriate actions,” John said. “Universal solidarity and commitment to the human cause with supportive political will is the only way to reduce the incalculable human suffering of the most vulnerable.”