In this August 2016 photo, a mother feeds her malnourished child at a feeding center run by Doctors Without Borders in Maiduguri, Nigeria. (AP Photo / Sunday Alamba)

International aid groups call for global response to humanitarian crisis

Aid groups and government officials in famine-hit parts of Africa and the Middle East are calling for more global attention to a crisis that has left more than 20 million people at risk of starvation.

The United Nations earlier this month said the world is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. More than 20 million people across conflict-hit regions in South Sudan, Somalia, northeastern Nigeria, and Yemen are at risk of famine and starvation. The rising needs and worsening conditions have left several aid groups and government officials scrambling for resources.

Benoit Munsch, a regional humanitarian coordinator at U.S.-based Care International, said the nonprofit provides aid to about 600,000 people in Somalia and South Sudan. Munsch said Care’s center in the South Sudanese town of Bantiu has seen an increase in recent weeks in families seeking aid and mothers so malnourished they cannot breastfeed their babies. Some regions of the Unity State in South Sudan have already declared famine, and many people are fleeing for neighboring Bantiu.

The South Sudanese conflict began in 2013 when a civil war broke out between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar. The crisis left tens of thousands dead and displaced more than 2 million people. Resurging clashes in July 2016 resulted in even more people fleeing the country and blocked aid groups from access to people remaining in the war-torn region. Those areas have now declared famine, Munsch said. The United Nations said some 100,000 South Sudanese are already enduring hunger and another million people are on the verge of famine.

The Ugandan government on Thursday said the country is at a “breaking point,” with some 3,000 refugees coming in daily from neighboring South Sudan. More than 570,000 refugees have arrived in the country since July, and the number will likely climb to more than 1 million this year, the Ugandan government said in a joint statement with the UN.

“We continue to welcome our neighbors in their time of need, but we urgently need the international community to assist as the situation is becoming increasingly critical,” said Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakhana Rugunda.

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Onize Ohikere