On 20 February 2017, South Sudan and the United Nations declared famine in parts of former Unity State, warning that it could spread rapidly without further action. More than 100,000 people are currently affected following civil war and economic collapse. The World Food Programme reported that 40% of the South Sudanese population (4.9 million people) needed food urgently. U.N. officials said President Salva Kiir Mayardit was blocking food deliveries to some areas.
In addition, parts of South Sudan have not had rain in two years. According to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Representative Serge Tissot, “Our worst fears have been realised. Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive. The people are predominantly farmers and war has disrupted agriculture. They’ve lost their livestock, even their farming tools. For months there has been a total reliance on whatever plants they can find and fish they can catch.”
South Sudan suffered the 1998 Sudan famine before its independence, but no famine had been formally declared anywhere in the world during the six years prior to 2017. There have been warnings of imminent famine in Yemen, Somalia, and the northeastern part of Nigeria, but the formal declaration requires that the following criteria be met:
20% of households suffer extreme food shortages.
30% of the population suffers extreme malnutrition.
At least 1 per each 5,000 inhabitants dies per day.
A February 20 update of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) found that 4.9 million South Sudan residents, 40% of the population, were in need of “urgent food, agriculture, and nutrition assistance”. The report had surveyed 23 countries, of which 14 exceeded the emergency action threshold of 15% acute malnutrition. The World Food Programme carried out relief operations throughout the war, mitigating the risk of famine in other areas including the Northern Bahr el Ghazal state. Bahr el Ghazal had been the region most severely affected in the 1998 famine, when it was struck by a two-year drought, a ban on humanitarian airdrops, restrictions on movement of displaced persons, confiscation of cattle and destruction of food stores.
A 2016 UN report described the former Unity State as the site of continuous fighting throughout the civil war because it has “great economic and symbolic importance because of its vast oil resources and also as a predominantly Nuer state, in a conflict that has pitted the two dominant tribes, Dinkas and Nuers, against each other”. Looting and burning in Unity State and displacement of its inhabitants in fighting over oil reserves also occurred in the Second Sudanese Civil War in the years leading up to the 1998 Sudan famine. It is estimated that in 1998, 12,000 people starved in the Block 5A area out of 240,000 total, with another 160,000 forcibly displaced. Instability is a major reason for the low oil production in South Sudan since 2012.
Four-year-old Safia Adan lies in Baidoa Regional Hospital in southern Somalia with a tube through her nose. She is suffering from severe malnutrition and dehydration. At her side her worried grandmother looks up to explain that Safia first became sick after drinking water from the local well. “The water had changed colour but we still drank it,” says her grandmother. “We stopped after Safia became sick. We brought her to the city because we knew you get could get good treatment here.” They were lucky – seven people from their village are now confirmed dead and the hospital has seen a surge in children suffering from water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea. They are the latest victims of the on-going drought ravaging Somalia that has left more than six million people, half the country’s population, facing food shortages and has seen water supplies become infected with bacteria rendering them undrinkable.
Last week the United Nations warned that a severe famine in Somalia was a distinct possibility and noted that if the rains failed again and urgent international action was not taken the country could see a repeat of the famine of 2011, which killed more than a quarter of a million people. “In the worst affected areas inadequate rainfall and lack of water has wiped out crops and killed livestock,” the UN said in a statement released last week. “Communities are being forced to sell their assets and borrow food and money to survive.” Aid agencies are particularly concerned that the drought is exacerbating the country’s on-going humanitarian crisis – 365,000 children under the age of five are acutely malnourished and 71,000 of those children are in need of urgent life-saving assistance. “This time last year we had far fewer cases but due to the drought people will use any kind of water,” says Dr Abdullah Yusuf, medical coordinator for the Baidoa Regional Hospital.
The Rohingya people have been described as “amongst the world’s least wanted” and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.” The Rohingya are deprived of the right to free movement and of higher education They have been denied Burmese citizenship since the Burmese nationality law was enacted. They are not allowed to travel without official permission and were previously required to sign a commitment not to have more than two children, though the law was not strictly enforced. They are subjected to routine forced labour, typically a Rohingya man will have to give up one day a week to work on military or government projects, and one night for sentry duty. The Rohingya have also lost a lot of arable land, which has been confiscated by the military to give to Buddhist settlers from elsewhere in Myanmar.
According to Amnesty International, the Rohingya have suffered from human rights violations under the military dictatorship since 1978, and many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result. In 2005, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had assisted with the repatriation of Rohingyas from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps threatened this effort. In 2015, 140,000 Rohingyas remain in IDP camps after communal riots in 2012. Despite earlier efforts by the UN, the vast majority of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are unable to return because of the 2012 communal violence and fear of persecution. Bangladeshi government has reduced the amount of support for Rohingyas to prevent an outflow of refugees to Bangladesh. In February 2009, many Rohingya refugees were rescued by Acehnese sailors in the Strait of Malacca, after 21 days at sea.
Thousands of Rohingyas have also fled to Thailand. There have been charges that Rohingyas were shipped and towed out to open sea from Thailand. In February 2009, evidence of the Thai army towing a boatload of 190 Rohingya refugees out to sea has surfaced. A group of refugees rescued by Indonesian authorities told that they were captured and beaten by the Thai military, and then abandoned at sea.
Steps to repatriate Rohingya refugees began in 2005. In 2009, the government of Bangladesh announced that it will repatriate around 9,000 Rohingyas living in refugee camps inside the country back to Myanmar, after a meeting with Burmese diplomats. On 16 October 2011, the new government of Myanmar agreed to take back registered Rohingya refugees. However, Rakhine State riots in 2012 hampered the repatriation efforts.
On 29 March 2014, the Burmese government banned the word “Rohingya” and asked for registration of the minority as “Bengalis” in the 2014 Myanmar Census, the first in three decades. On 7 May 2014, the United States House of Representatives passed the United States House resolution on persecution of the Rohingya people in Burma that called on the government of Myanmar to end the discrimination and persecution. Researchers from the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London suggest that the Myanmar government are in the final stages of an organised process of genocide against the Rohingya. In November 2016, a senior UN official in Bangladesh accused Myanmar of ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas. However, such viewpoints have been criticized for using loaded terms to gain megaphone attention. Mr Charles Petrie, a former top UN official in Myanmar, argues that “Today using the term, aside from being divisive and potentially incorrect, will only ensure that opportunities and options to try to resolve the issue to be addressed will not be available.”
Since the start of the Iraqi military operation to retake Mosul in October last year, more than 144,500 people have been displaced and a majority of them are in desperate need of live-saving humanitarian assistance, the United Nations migration agency has warned. “Humanitarian aid is essential for the survival of the thousands of families displaced by Mosul operations who have left everything behind to save their own lives,” said Thomas Lothar Weiss, the Chief of the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) operations in Iraq. “Assistance must provide for a range of needs – including shelter, household items, health and livelihoods,” he added, underlining the need for additional funding to sustain relief efforts and to prepare for further displacement from the ongoing crisis.
Up to 20,000 people have fled eastern Aleppo over the past 72 hours as Syrian government forces continued to advance in the rebel-held part of the city, according to the Red Cross. Terrified civilians have fled empty-handed into remaining rebel-held territory, or crossed into government-controlled western Aleppo or Kurdish-held districts. The 20,000 figure is an estimate and could increase as “people are fleeing in different directions”, International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Krista Armstrong told the AFP news agency. United Nations humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien had earlier put the number of displaced people from eastern Aleppo at 16,000.
The city, which was Syria’s biggest before the start of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, has been divided between the government-held west and rebel-held east, where UN officials say at least 250,000 people remain under siege. The Syrian government offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo has sparked international alarm as it intensified this week. A voluntary rescue group known as the White Helmets reported at least 51 civilians killed in east Aleppo and more than 150 injured during the government assault. Syrian government forces dropped “more than 150 air strikes from war planes and helicopters and [fired] more than 1,200 artillery shells”, the group wrote on its Facebook page.
The attacks hit the neighbourhoods of Bab al-Nairab, al-Mayser and al-Salheen, among others. SANA, the official Syrian state media arm, reported that Syrian government forces and allies on Monday took control of several areas in the city’s northeast, including al-Haidariya, al-Sakhour, al-Inzarat, al-Sheikh Khedr, Jabal Badro, and al-Halk.
Here in the Iraqi town of Qayyarah, in the desert south of Mosul, the sun is an orange orb burning through a screen of black and gray clouds that cover the sky. The sky at midafternoon is the color of dusk, and the air is painful to breathe. Retreating ISIS fighters have set fire to oil wells as well as a sulfur plant in the area, sending up plumes of toxic black and white smoke that blanket the sky and burn the lungs. Some of the oil fires have burned since last summer. On Friday, Islamic State fighters reportedly torched the Mishraq sulfur plant, north of Qayyarah. At least two civilians died from the effects of the gas. The attack on the sulfur facility came days after Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake Mosul, threatening the largest city under Islamic State control. The toxic pall south of the city underscores the jihadists’ ability to render portions of Iraq unlivable even as their self-proclaimed caliphate contracts.