A letter signed by more than 200 humanitarian organizations calls for world leaders to urgently address world hunger at the United Nations General Assembly. It cites that one person dies from hunger every four seconds. We speak to Abby Maxman, president of the United Nations General Assembly. CEO of Oxfam America, one of the letter’s signatories, who just returned from Somaliland, where a famine may be declared as early as next month. Climate change COVID and conflicts such as the war in Ukraine are largely to blame for rising hunger, she says, and “those who are the least responsible are suffering its worst impacts.”
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AMY GOODMAN:Every four seconds, one person is dying from hunger. That’s the warning from a coalition of humanitarian groups, who say global hunger is spiraling out of control. Oxfam, Save the Children and other groups say 345 million people are now experiencing acute hunger — double the number from 2019. Humanitarian groups in 75 countries sent an email open letterHigh-ranking diplomats and world leaders are expected to gather this week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York Ciy. This is the first U.N. General Assembly since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a key meeting Tuesday focused on how the war is contributing to skyrocketing levels of hunger. Antony Blinken is the U.S. Secretary Of State.
SECRETARYOF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN:At the beginning of 2022, there were no conflicts COVID-19, more that 190 million people have been affected by the climate crisis. According to the World Food Programme, President Putin’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine may add 70 million people on top of that — an already staggering number becoming even more staggering.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the United Nations is warning of a looming famine in Somalia, where a searing drought fueled by the climate crisis has withered crops, killed livestock and left nearly 8 million people, or half of Somalia’s population, in need of humanitarian assistance. The U.N. warns that millions more are at high risk of hunger in East Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia.
For more on the world hunger emergency, we’re joined in New York by Abby Maxman, president and CEOOxfam America. Recently, she returned from Somaliland where a famine could be declared as soon as October. Oxfam is one the signatories of an open letterOver 200 NGOs submitted this week to world leaders, asking them to take immediate action.
Welcoming to Democracy Now!Abby Maxman. Can you start off by laying out the scope of the problem and what you’re calling for?
ABBY MAXMAN:Amy, thank-you so much. It was a pleasure to be with you.
Having just returned from Somaliland last week, I’m able to connect what we’re seeing in the lived, real lives of people and how they’re affected, and connect them with those global numbers you already outlined. This confluence is causing extreme hunger in three hundred and forty-five millions people. COVID and conflict — and that number, in and of itself, 345 million people, more than the entire population of the United States, and this in the 21st century.
Now we know we have been calling for the alarm for several decades. And we’ve had used our early-warning systems to trigger, to show — that have showed drought has continued to erode the lives and livelihoods of pastoralist and agropastoralist communities. The stories of a Somaliland woman I met were very similar. A woman named Safia, mother of eight, divorcée, who had stayed in her community as long as she could over the past several years, and ultimately went to a displaced persons camp near Burao called Durdur after she had lost 90% of her livestock. As her livestock declined, hyenas surrounded her family and community. They couldn’t help but move.
Climate change is the main cause of all this. The increasing frequency and ferocity of intense climatic shocks, droughts, floods and heat waves, that we’re observing from Pakistan to Puerto Rico and, of course, across East Africa, are evidenced in all of the news. But we know it’s people like Safia and the 74-year-old farmer who said this is the worst drought he has ever seen in his lifetime, they are down to one meal a day. They are in dire need of our support.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ:Abby Maxman, you also mentioned conflict. How has the Russian invasion in Ukraine affected the supply of food, particularly to the Global South? What about corporations profiting from situations? We see that the secretary-general mentions oil and energy companies who exploit the current crisis. Your sense of these two things — the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and general super profits sought by some international companies?
ABBY MAXMAN:Juan, thank you for pointing out these two points. Yes, the war on Ukraine has only exacerbated an already difficult situation. The economic consequences COVIDThe war in Ukraine has exacerbated the climate crisis and prices. Prices have risen exorbitantly. And people in Somaliland who I was talking to and seeing were spending more than 90% — 90% — of their income on food just to survive, and they were using coping strategies, down to one and two meals a day. This is only one example of many that illustrates the effects of the global conflict and crisis on Somaliland, East Africa, and Somaliland.
Your point on fossil fuel profit and others, it can’t be understated. It is amazing that, as humanity faces the existential climate crisis, fossil fuel companies have more incentive to destroy our planet and kill people than to save lives or save the planet. We know that the oil-and-gas industry has made huge profits while wreaking havoc on the planet. They’ve been amassing $2.8 billion a day. That’s more than a trillion dollars a year over the last 50 years. And just let me contrast that against the fact that 18 days of fossil companies’ profit could cover the entire U.N. humanitarian appeal for 2022, which has been woefully underfunded.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ:You also mentioned that you were recently in Somaliland. Would you be able to talk about Africa’s current situation? There are still major conflicts in Africa, particularly in Ethiopia. What is your perception of the impact of these regional conflicts on Africa’s hunger and poverty?
ABBY MAXMAN: Yeah, Juan. Well, that confluence of those toxic three Cs — COVID, climate, conflict — are just supercharging the situation. The worst effects are felt by those who are least liable. So, we need to make sure — we know that when humanitarian access is limited, that exacerbates people’s lives and livelihoods and the ability to get basics of their human rights — food, shelter, water, safety, protection. So, that is part of the cocktail, if you will, the toxic one, that people who — are experiencing, people like the countless pastoralists who are facing existential crisis to their lives, livelihoods, and that of their ancestors. They have dignity and rights that we must protect and support during crisis. The international community is responsible for taking action and has a moral obligation to do so. This week, we are calling upon all those in power, including policymakers and member states, to act immediately.
Three big things are required. Save lives — and there’s a number of ways of doing that: make sure we resource the humanitarian appeals and get the resources to people who need them, support local organizations, women-led organizations. Second, we must build resilience. We can’t continue this pattern of grabbing resources to respond to crises we know are coming. We must invest now in both. It’s an investment in the future. It’s an investment in protection. It’s an investment in promoting lives and livelihoods and dignity. Third, we must invest in that future beyond the resilience. We must double climate adaptation funds. We need to ensure that special draw rights are modified in order to relieve countries of debt and reduce their debt burden. We also need to support nutrition and other important issues at this time.
AMY GOODMAN:Let me ask you a question about the increasing inequality in the world, and how it relates to the crisis facing hunger around the globe. According to a report just released by the investment bank Credit Suisse, the number of “ultra-high-net-worth” individuals, UHNWThe number of people in the world grew exponentially to 218,200 last years. Can you comment on the extraordinary rise in wealth concentrated in a few while hundreds of millions die from hunger-related causes? How can we address this?
ABBY MAXMAN:It must be addressed. And I appreciate there’s an acronym now, UHNW, though that’s sad, a sad fact that that needs to be called out. This is a failure of our economic system. It is broken and serves a few. It’s not — it’s immoral, it’s wrong, and there’s an opportunity to fix it. It’s not happening by chance. It’s happening intentionally by those in power and political capture and those who are wreaking profits to benefit themselves.
There can be an opportunity to have a global wealth tax, to ensure that fossil fuel companies’ profits can be fairly taxed so that things like the U.N. humanitarian appeals, at a minimum, are funded. This is — nobody suffers. This is a race from the bottom to the top. Extreme inequality is harmful for all of society, and all of humanity. It is very frustrating, it makes me very angry, to hear that, “Oh, there are no resources. That’s why we cannot save lives, build resilience and invest in the future.” That is not accurate. In the 21st century, there are enough resources to ensure the integrity and dignity of people’s lives and livelihoods and a more equal world. And there’s an opportunity to end extreme inequality by changing this failing economic system.
AMY GOODMAN:Abby Maxman, thank you so much, president and CEOOxfam America, recently returned to the United States from a trip in Somaliland, where a possible famine may be declared as soon at October.
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