U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that East Africans are facing starvation and that the situation might worsen if nothing is done to avert the crisis.
The United Nations estimates more than 17 million people are facing hunger in nine countries. Somalia is facing its second famine in less than six years, South Sudan has declared some parts of the country in famine, and Kenya's government declared the drought there a national disaster. More than 5.5 million people are going to bed hungry in Ethiopia alone.
Guterres, ending a visit to Kenya on Wednesday, discussed the South Sudan political and humanitarian crisis with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
"We had the opportunity to discuss, to find, identify [a] point of view on how to create conditions for South Sudan to have an inclusive dialogue leading to a true peaceful settlement of the problem South Sudan faces, and at the same time with the humanitarian access to be granted to all parts of the territory," Guterres said.
The U.N. leader said violence, looting and blocking aid from reaching those in need had worsened the situation in South Sudan and had put more than 1 million people at risk.
Guterres said a major effort would be required to end the crisis and the suffering of the South Sudanese people.
Hope for progress
"We are not yet there," he said. "We still have many incidents taking place, much fighting taking place, many problems taking place. But the risk of genocide has considerably diminished, and I'm hopeful that with this unity of work with African leadership, IGAD [the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an African trade bloc], African Union and the U.N., we will be able to move in the right direction, being aware of the enormous challenge that exists."
Of 17 million people in urgent need of humanitarian aid, a third live in Somalia, half that country's population. Lack of rain and constant conflict has worsened the situation there.
Guterres visited Somalia on Tuesday, where he said the situation was complicated. He said the combination of hunger, fatal diseases, drought, and the continuing struggle to defeat al-Shabab terrorists and to create conditions under which peace could be established "has had a devastating impact on the economy and in the lives of Somalis." People are suffering enormously, he said, and there is "a clear need of support from the international community."
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR is seeking at least $800 million to avert the crisis in Somalia.