Millions of people in conflict-hit Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria are at risk of famine in the coming months or already facing it, two United Nations agencies warned Tuesday.
Already some 34 million people are facing acute hunger across the globe, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food an Agriculture Organization said in a joint report.
"We are seeing a catastrophe unfold before our very eyes," WFP chief David Beasley said, calling for urgent action in Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria.
"Famine, driven by conflict, and fuelled by climate shocks and the COVID-19 hunger pandemic, is knocking on the door for millions of families," said Beasley said.
The report said that for Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria "urgent and at-scale targeted humanitarian action is needed to prevent hunger or death".
The three areas were among 20 "hunger hotspots" identified by the UN agencies where existing acute food insecurity risks deteriorating further by July due to a range of factors, from conflict to outbreaks of locusts that destroy crops.
Other hotspots are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Syria.
Parts of their populations are already experiencing "extreme depletion of livelihoods, insufficient food consumption and high acute malnutrition", the report warned, where further shocks could push people "over the brink".
Highlighting the most desperate areas, the report said that famine was already occurring in parts of Jonglei state in South Sudan.
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Overall in South Sudan, some 7.2 million people are expected to be in food crisis -- with high malnutrition or just marginally meeting minimal food needs -- from April to July.
Of these, some 2.4 million people are classified as in an "emergency" situation, with 108,000 people in the agencies' "catastrophe/famine" grouping.
Urgent action is also required to prevent further destitution in parts of Yemen, the report said, with the number of people in or nearly in famine estimated to triple from 16,000 last October-December to more than 47,000 this June.
Those facing acute food insecurity in Yemen will rise by three million, it said, to 16.2 million people, with five million in an emergency situation.
Meanwhile in conflict-affected areas of northern Nigeria, the number of people facing an emergency situation will likely double year on year to over 1.2 million by August 2021.
There was some improvement -- Burkina Faso is no longer on high alert, after a good harvest and improved delivery of food assistance to remote and inaccessible areas.
Continued conflict in the region, however, means the situation "remains very concerning", the report said.
The two UN agencies this month appealed for $5.5 billion from donors this year to tackle the issue of food insecurity, through a combination of humanitarian food assistance, cash and other interventions.
"The magnitude of suffering is alarming. It is incumbent upon all of us to act now and to act fast to save lives, safeguard livelihoods and prevent the worst situation," said FAO director-general Qu Dongyu.