SEATTLE — Eight of the world's biggest aid groups are joining together in a new campaign to get more attention in the U.S. for what the United Nations calls the world's largest humanitarian crisis in more than 70 years.
More than 20 million people are at risk of famine in nine African nations and Yemen, according to the United Nations. But Richard Stearns, president of Federal Way, Washington-based World Vision, says the situation has been overshadowed amid the controversies surrounding President Donald Trump's administration.
"We have seen that America is very distracted, and I think you have another phenomena — that some Americans are just so fed up with the news," Stearns told The Seattle Times .
Instead of competing for donations, the organizations — U.S.-based groups or the U.S. arms of international charities — are banding together in a fundraising appeal launching this week. The Global Emergency Response Coalition 's effort is backed by $1 million in matching donations each from the PepsiCo Foundation and the investment firm BlackRock, with additional corporate sponsors that include Twitter and Google.
Actor George Clooney narrated a video pitch for the campaign.
Conflicts have disrupted farming and driven millions of people from their homes in some of the affected countries, while drought is a factor elsewhere. The hardest hit countries are Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan.
Cattle carcasses littered the land and children were dying of hunger when Stearns visited nomadic herders in northern Kenya last month. A World Vision nutrition center had only two nurses trying to offer supplemental feeding to hundreds of malnourished children.
"I don't often feel helpless as a World Visions president, but I am feeling kind of helpless right now," Stearns said in a video report, choking back tears.
Early this month, the United States, the world's largest donor of humanitarian assistance, announced it would send $630 million in aid to the four hardest-hit countries. That brought the total U.S. assistance to the four countries to more than $1.8 billion this fiscal year, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
But hunger-relief advocates noted that the newly announced aid had been approved by Congress months ago before being held up by the Trump administration. Trump's proposed deep cuts to foreign aid — more than 30 percent — have caused widespread concern.
Deepmala Mahla, the South Sudan country director for Oregon-based Mercy Corps, said she plans to call for increasing the aid when she testifies before a Senate subcommittee Tuesday.
"My message will be, "People are dying, this is not the time to talk about aid cuts,'" Mahla said.