Severe food shortages in southern Africa are expected to grow dramatically worse by year's end, unless the world does something soon.
African aid experts say they worry that the continent’s crippling drought may fall behind crises in conflict-ravaged nations like Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, as international aid officials converge this week for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.
“The window for responding in a meaningful manner is closing rapidly,” said Shadrack Omol, senior adviser to the United Nations’ children’s emergency fund. “Slow-onset emergencies, such as the one we are dealing with in southern Africa do not get enough attention because they creep up on us.”
The weather pattern that led to the drought — the famously erratic El Nino — has been battering Africa’s east and south since 2015, first drenching parts of the region with severe floods, and then baking it dry with severe drought. The crisis has affected some 32 million people in Southern Africa alone, and experts say they expect new assessments to rise to nearly 50 million people in early June.
“Behind each unit, there is a person,” Elhadj As Sy, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “There is a mother who is really having this invisible pain to see your children going to bed hungry, or to hear them cry for food because you cannot satisfy those needs.”
Sy said he’ll be pushing hard for attention at the summit.
“Of course it’s about food,” he said. “Of course it’s about water, of course it’s about sanitation — but it’s also about dignity.”
Harvests were poor in April. That food is expected to tide some people over temporarily, but then the situation could take a turn for the worse by July, “reaching its peak between December 2016 and April 2017,” according to the most recent assessment by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
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