The number of people facing acute food insecurity, requiring urgent life-saving food assistance and livelihood support, continues to grow at an alarming rate, according to a joint UN report released on Wednesday.
The annual report from the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) – an international alliance of the UN, European Union (EU), governmental and non-governmental agencies – shines a light on the urgency of tackling root causes rather than just responding to emergencies after the fact.
Most in need
The report focuses on countries and territories where the severity of the food crisis is outstripping local resources and capacities.
It reveals that some 193 million people in 53 countries or territories experienced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels (IPC/CH Phase 3-5) in 2021, representing an increase of nearly 40 million people compared with 2020’s already record numbers.
Of those, 570,000 people in Ethiopia, southern Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen, were classified in the most severe phase of acute food insecurity, “catastrophe” phase 5, and required urgent action to avert widespread collapse of livelihoods, starvation and death.
When looking at the same 39 countries or territories featured in all editions of the report, the number of people facing Phase 3 levels or above, nearly doubled between 2016 and 2021, rising unabatedly each year since 2018.
“The results of this year’s Global Report further demonstrate the need to collectively address acute food insecurity at the global level across humanitarian, development and peace context,” said QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
From conflict to environmental and climate crises, and economic to health crises with poverty and inequality as undelaying causes, these worrying trends are the result of multiple drivers feeding into one another.
Weather extremes have crippled over 23 million people in eight countries/territories, an increase from 15.7 million in 15 countries/territories.
And economic shocks have affected over 30 million people in 21 countries/territories, down from over 40 million people in 17 countries/territories in 2020 – mainly due to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conflict main driver
However, conflict remains the main driver of food insecurity, having pushed 139 million in 24 countries/territories into acute food insecurity – up from around 99 million in 23 countries/territories in in 2020.
“Conflict, the climate crisis, COVID-19 and surging food and fuel costs have created a perfect storm,” said Mr. Beasley.
“Millions of people in dozens of countries are being driven to the edge of starvation,” he added appealing for “urgently need emergency funding to pull them back from the brink and turn this global crisis around before it’s too late”.
While the analysis predates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the report finds that the war has already exposed the interconnected nature and fragility of global food systems, with serious consequences for global food and nutrition security.
Countries already coping with high levels of acute hunger are particularly vulnerable to the risks created by the war in Eastern Europe, notably due to their high dependency on imports of food and agricultural inputs and vulnerability to global food price shocks, notes the report.
“The tragic link between conflict and food insecurity is once again evident and alarming,” said Mr. QU.
“While the international community has courageously stepped up to the calls for urgent famine prevention and mitigation action, resource mobilization to efficiently tackle the root causes of food crises due to, among others, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, global hotspots and the war in Ukraine, still struggles to match the growing needs”.
A paradigm shift
The report’s findings demonstrate the need for a greater prioritization of smallholder agriculture as a frontline humanitarian response.
Furthermore, it advocates for promoting structural changes to current external financing, to reduce humanitarian assistance over time through longer-term development investments, which can help tackle the root causes of hunger.
In parallel, humanitarian assistance must be provided more efficiently and sustainably.
“The situation calls out for at-scale action to move towards integrated approaches to prevention, anticipation, and better targeting to sustainably address the root causes of food crises, including structural rural poverty, marginalization, population growth and fragile food systems,” said the Global Network founding members, in a joint statement with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank.