Some 345 million people are acutely food insecure worldwide, more than twice as many as before the covid-19 pandemic, said a new report by the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
“Conflict, economic shocks, weather extremes and soaring fertiliser prices are combining to create a food crisis of unprecedented proportions,” the WFP report said.
Within the “staggering increase” of more than 200 million acutely food insecure people from the early 2020s, there are some 900,000 people struggling to survive in conditions bordering on famine.
Specialised agencies use a phased scale, from one to five, to measure the food situation, between those who are covered and those who, already in famine, are sick and may die of starvation.
Those who according to WFP “do not know where their next meal is coming from”, i.e., food insecure people at any stage, number 828 million worldwide.
Fifty serious hunger hotspots have been identified in 24 countries, of which 16 are in Africa – Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan are the most severe cases – five in Asia, and Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras in the Americas.
WFP says it is facing an increase in the number of acutely hungry people “at a rate that funding is unlikely to match”, while the cost of delivering food assistance is at an all-time high because food and fuel prices have risen.
Conflict remains the main driver of hunger, the agency argues, with 70 percent of the world’s hungry people living in areas ravaged by war and violence.
“The events in Ukraine are further evidence of how conflict fuels hunger, forcing people from their homes, wiping out their sources of income and wrecking countries’ economies,” the report says.
The climate crisis is also a major cause of the sharp rise in world hunger, as “climate shocks destroy lives, crops and livelihoods, and undermine people’s ability to feed themselves. Hunger will spiral out of control if the world does not take immediate climate action”.
Third, international fertiliser prices have risen even faster than food prices, which are at their highest in ten years.
The effects of the war in Ukraine, including rising natural gas prices, have further affected global fertiliser production and exports, reducing supplies, increasing prices and threatening to reduce harvests.
Costs are also at an all-time high: WFP’s monthly operating costs are at $73.6 million above the 2019 average, “a staggering 44% increase”.
The extra now spent on operating costs would previously have fed four million people for a month, the report says, adding that in countries such as Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, difficult choices are already being faced, such as reducing rations to reach more people.
“This is tantamount to taking from the hungry to feed the starving,” an expression WFP reiterates to make the difficulty more graphic.
Last year, the world raised extraordinary resources, with a record $14 billion for WFP alone, for it to make a dent in the unprecedented global food crisis, “but it is not enough and we need to go further, addressing the underlying causes of hunger”.
To achieve the “zero hunger” proposed in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “the common thread of good governance is needed, which allows human capital to grow, economies to develop and people to thrive,” WFP says.
Without political commitments to end armed conflict, and to contain global warming as stipulated in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the main causes of hunger will continue unabated, the WFP report added.