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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Looking for early clues of famine rather than waiting for images of dying children is crucial to building the resilience needed to avert full-blown hunger crises, the U.N. aid chief said on Friday, as the world faces four conflict-driven famines.
"We took a big and very strategic decision at the U.N. ...to use the clues we've had rather than wait for the proof that we have these famines appearing," said Stephen O'Brien, the United Nations' top humanitarian official.
"Don't wait for the television screens to be filled with emaciated dying children to mobilise money, resources, activity and prevention," he said in a speech at Chatham House, a London based think-tank.
The United Nations has declared famine in parts of South Sudan and warned that more than 20 million people risk dying from starvation because of drought and conflict in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria, while more than 100 million face acute malnutrition worldwide.
O'Brien underscored the link between conflict and famine. "Those (hunger crises) all share this terrible and devastating commonality: violence and conflict which have contributed to or directly caused famine risk conditions," he said.
A decade ago most international aid organisations focused almost 80 percent of their resources on natural disaster threats and the rest on "manmade humanitarian risks", but it is now the other way around, he said.
Conflict in Yemen was his "biggest worry" due to restricted access for assistance and the slow movement of goods, forcing aid agencies to use longer and costlier routes to supply food.
Yemen is embroiled in fighting between Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran, against a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition that is carrying out air strikes almost daily.
The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has named a senior British foreign aid official, Mark Lowcock, as the new U.N. aid chief, to replace O'Brien at the end of August, the United nations said on Friday.
Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org