ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The United Nations says the world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. More than 20 million people are facing starvation or severe food shortages. They're spread over four countries - Yemen, Somalia South Sudan and Nigeria. To tell us what's going on there, we're joined by NPR's Jason Beaubien. Jason, what is happening in those four countries?
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Well, basically what's happening is conflict. You've got conflict in all four of these countries that are driving people off their land, making it unable for them to eat, unable to get access to food the way they normally would. The worst is Yemen. War-torn Yemen is considered to have about two-thirds of its people in need of humanitarian aid right now, the U.N. says - South Sudan a similar situation where fighting has driven people out of their homes, off their farms, and it continues to spiral downwards.
Northern Nigeria, you've got Boko Haram militants there who have taken over large swaths of the northern part of the country. And then Somalia, you've got a drought hitting there on top of what has already been practically a failed state. So it's different factors in each country, and that's part of what's making this an incredibly complex food crisis to attack.
SIEGEL: Well, the U.N. has put out this warning. What is the U.N. doing, or what does the U.N. want to do about it?
BEAUBIEN: Well, the U.N. is really struggling to raise the funding it says it needs for these relief operations. It says it needs about $4.4 billion. It's only raised a tiny sliver of that at this point in time. It's also getting in there and trying to put in relief where it can. It's using planes to airdrop food in. It's also documenting deaths from starvation that are occurring. But they're very concerned that they don't have the resources right now that they need to actually tackle this problem.
SIEGEL: These are incredibly difficult places for aid workers to operate. As you've said, these are conflict zones. And in northern Nigeria, Yemen, many of these places are controlled by armed militants. How are relief organizations trying to get to people in need in such places?
BEAUBIEN: They're basically trying any way they can, but they are running into incredible difficulties. Samaritan's Purse - it's an American Christian aid group - they were working in a part of South Sudan that has been declared a famine. Two weeks ago, they had to pull all of their staff out of this one village where they were doing food relief operations. They left a few people behind to sort of keep things going on a shoestring.
Well, this week, those staff all got held hostage by armed gunmen. I talked with Ken Isaacs. He's from Samaritan's Purse headquarters in North Carolina, and he told me that there's this vicious cycle of security problems making the food situation worse.
KEN ISAACS: We have been out for two weeks now. We can't fly and drop food. And so the people in that area are now getting more desperate. And on top of that, fighting is happening around them. It's just a bad recipe all the way around.
BEAUBIEN: And that bad recipe is sort of playing out in all of these different four countries that the U.N. says face starvation if something doesn't change in the months to come.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien. Jason, thanks.
BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.
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