In a week of special coverage, ITV News is taking a closer look at how widespread starvation is threatening countries in the parts of the Middle East and Africa.
How long does the world have? Three weeks? Five? Two months, maybe?
How quickly must the international community move to save the lives of nearly 20 million people who will, without a global response, face death by hunger, malnutrition and the legions of diseases that accompany such a condition?
If we do have two months, and by all considerations it seems a generous length of time given the severity of the situation, that means a worldwide response which requires mobilizing funds, medicines, logisticians, doctors, nutritionists and engineers to save 660,000 people a day for 30 days.
Think about that for a moment.
It is only when you put it into this kind of context that you begin to realise why Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations head of humanitarian affairs, told the Security Council on March 10 – as I flew back from one of the worst affected areas in Somaliland – that the world was facing “the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations”.
“We need $4.4 billion (£3.6 billion) by July,” he added bluntly.
The world has faced devastating famines before.
One doesn’t need to go that far back in time across the very same affected regions to be reminded of the terrible cost that hunger and disease have taken as a result of both natural and man-made famines.
In 2011, Somalia, just one of the four currently affected nations, lost more than 260,000 lives as a result of famine – 133,000 of them children under five years of age.
But even by this terrible recent standard, the threat of famine now is on a far, far larger scale.
The word “unprecedented” is overused, but it is the right word to describe the picture Mr O’Brien was painting for the UN Security Council.
At no other time in living memory has the world had to face four potential famines simultaneously.
The most urgent of these is in Yemen, one of the Arab world’s poorest nations, where the civil war and the bombing campaign by Saudi Arabia has created a perfect storm for famine conditions.
But of a total population of 27.4 million people, a staggering 18.8 million are in need of humanitarian aid and seven million people are hungry.
Mr O’Brien accused all parties in the conflict of hampering access to life-saving humanitarian assistance.
In South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, which, despite being in the midst of a civil war, the UN’s humanitarian chief said war was not the driving force that had created famine conditions in the nation.
“The famine in South Sudan is man-made,” he said, “parties to the conflict are parties to the famine – as are those not intervening to make the violence stop.”
In Somalia and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, in the north of the country, three years of failed rains have put over six million at risk from starvation again.
In northern Nigeria, it’s thought that if the world doesn’t react quickly enough we could witness 300 children die a day.
This was a warning of multiple famines foretold.
This situation did not crop up quickly or out of the blue, and it is right to ask with urgency how the world finds itself in a position where it is in an almost impossible race against time to save the lives of millions.
But that is exactly what this is – a desperate race against time.
Let no one say they weren’t warned.