UN says 1.4 million children at imminent risk of death in famines

GENEVA (Reuters) - Nearly 1.4 million children are at "imminent risk" of death in famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said on Tuesday.

People are already starving to death in all four countries, and the World Food Programme says more than 20 million lives are at risk in the next six months.

"Time is running out for more than a million children," UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in statement.

RELATED: South Sudan famine and food crisis

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South Sudan famine and food crisis
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South Sudan famine and food crisis

A mother feeds her child with a peanut-based paste for treatment of severe acute malnutrition in a UNICEF supported hospital in the capital Juba, South Sudan, January 25, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

Women wait in line during a UNICEF supported mobile health clinic in the village of Rubkuai, Unity State, South Sudan, February 16, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

A United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) plane releases sacks of food during an airdrop close to Rubkuai village in Unity State, northern South Sudan, February 18, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

Women carry sacks of food in Nimini village, Unity State, northern South Sudan, February 8, 2017

(REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

People walk by inside the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians site (PoC), near Bentiu, northern South Sudan, February 9, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

A boy watches sacks of food drop to the ground during a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) airdrop close to Rubkuai village in Unity State, northern South Sudan, February 18, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

A woman cooks a meal in the town of Pibor, Boma state, east of South Sudan, February 2, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

A man collects sacks of food from a dry river bed after a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) airdrop close to Rubkuai village in Unity State, northern South Sudan, February 18, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

People wait to receive food inside the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians site (PoC), near Bentiu, northern South Sudan, February 10, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

A boy moves away as a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) helicopter lands in Rubkuai village, Unity State, northern South Sudan, February 18, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Siegfried Modola)

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"We can still save many lives. The severe malnutrition and looming famine are largely man-made. Our common humanity demands faster action. We must not repeat the tragedy of the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa."

Famine was formally declared on Monday in parts of South Sudan, which has been mired in civil war since 2013. The conflict has increasingly split the country along ethnic lines, leading the United Nations to warn of a potential genocide.

SEE ALSO: Parts of South Sudan officially in famine

UNICEF said 270,000 children in South Sudan were severely malnourished. Save the Children, a charity, said on Monday that more than 1 million children in South Sudan were at risk of starving.

South Sudan has also been hit by the same east African drought that has pushed Somalia back to the brink of famine, six years after 260,000 people starved to death in 2011.

UNICEF said 185,000 children were expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in Somalia this year, but the figure was likely to rise to 270,000 in the next few months.

Another 462,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Yemen, where two years of war have caused economic collapse and severe restrictions on shipping.

Famine has been ongoing since last year in parts of northeastern Nigeria, where the government is fighting the militant group Boko Haram. The number of children with severe acute malnutrition is expected to reach 450,000 this year, UNICEF said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles, editing by Larry King)

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