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Food insecurity at all time high
by Global Network Against Food Crises, agencies
1:33pm 9th May, 2022
6 June 2022
WFP and FAO warn of looming widespread food crisis as hunger threatens stability in dozens of countries.
Conflict, weather extremes, economic shocks, the lingering impacts of COVID-19, and the ripple effects from the war in Ukraine push millions of people in countries across the world into poverty and hunger – as food and fuel price spikes drive nations closer to instability says new hunger hotspots report.
ROME – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have today issued a stark warning of multiple, looming food crises, driven by conflict, climate shocks, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and massive public debt burdens - exacerbated by the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine which has pushed food and fuel prices to accelerate in many nations across the globe. These shocks hit in contexts already characterized by rural marginalization and fragile agrifood systems.
The ‘Hunger Hotspots – FAO-WFP early warnings on acute food insecurity’ report issued today calls for urgent humanitarian action in 20 ‘hunger hotspots’ where acute hunger is expected to worsen from June-September 2022 – to save lives and livelihoods, and prevent famine.
The report warns that the war in Ukraine has exacerbated the already steadily rising food and energy prices worldwide, which are already affecting economic stability across all regions. The effects are expected to be particularly acute where economic instability and spiralling prices combine with drops in food production due to climate shocks such as recurrent droughts or flooding.
“We’re facing a perfect storm that is not just going to hurt the poorest of the poor - it’s also going to overwhelm millions of families who until now have just about kept their heads above water,” warned WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
“Conditions now are much worse than during the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2007-2008 food price crisis, when 48 countries were rocked by political unrest, riots and protests. We’ve already seen what’s happening in Indonesia, Pakistan, Peru, and Sri Lanka – that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have solutions. But we need to act, and act fast,” he warned.
“We are deeply concerned about the combined impacts of overlapping crises jeopardizing people’s ability to produce and access foods, pushing millions more into extreme levels of acute food insecurity,” said the FAO Director. “We are in a race against time to help farmers in the most affected countries, including by rapidly increasing potential food production and boosting their resilience in the face of challenges”.
Key findings
The report finds that – alongside conflict – frequent and recurring climate shocks continue to drive acute hunger and shows that we have entered a ‘new normal’ where droughts, flooding, hurricanes, and cyclones repeatedly decimate farming and livestock rearing, drive population displacement and push millions to the brink in countries across the world.
The report warns that worrisome climatic trends linked to La Niña since late 2020 are expected to continue through 2022, driving up humanitarian needs and acute hunger. An unprecedented drought in East Africa affecting Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya is leading to a fourth consecutive below-average rainfall season, while South Sudan will face its fourth consecutive year of large-scale flooding, which will likely continue to drive people from their homes and devastate crops and livestock production.
The report also expects above-average rains and a risk of localized flooding in the Sahel, a more intense hurricane season in the Caribbean, and below-average rains in Afghanistan – which is already reeling from multiple seasons of drought, violence and political upheaval.
The report also emphasises the urgency of the dire macroeconomic conditions in several countries – brought on by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by the recent upheaval in global food and energy markets. These conditions are causing dramatic income losses among the poorest communities and are straining the capacity of national governments to fund social safety nets, income-supporting measures, and the import of essential goods.
According to the report, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen remain at ‘highest alert’ as hotspots with catastrophic conditions, and Afghanistan and Somalia are new entries to this worrisome category since the last hotspots report released January 2022.
These six countries all have parts of the population facing IPC phase 5 ‘Catastrophe’ or at risk of deterioration towards catastrophic conditions, with up to 750,000 people facing starvation and death. 400,000 of these are in Ethiopia’s Tigray region – the highest number on record in one country since the famine in Somalia in 2011.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, the Sahel, the Sudan and Syria remain ‘of very high concern’ with deteriorating critical conditions, as in the previous edition of this report – with Kenya a new entry to the list. Sri Lanka, West African coastal countries (Benin, Cabo Verde and Guinea), Ukraine and Zimbabwe have been added to the list of hotspots countries, joining Angola, Lebanon, Madagascar, and Mozambique which continue to be hunger hotspots – according to the report.
May 2022
Global Report on Food Crises 2022 from the Global Network Against Food Crises
Globally, levels of hunger remain alarmingly high. In 2021, they surpassed all previous records as reported by the Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC), with some 193 million people acutely food insecure and in need of urgent assistance across 53 countries/territories, according to the findings of the GRFC 2022. This represents an increase of nearly 40 million people compared to the previous high reached in 2020.
When considering the results of the six editions of the GRFC, the number of people has risen by 80 percent since 2016, when around 108 million people across 48 countries were acutely food insecure and in need of urgent assistance (Crisis or worse - IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent.
Acute food insecurity is when a person's inability to consume adequate food puts their lives or livelihoods in immediate danger. It draws on internationally-accepted measures of extreme hunger, such as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) and the Cadre Harmonise.
When comparing the 39 countries/territories that were consistently in food crisis in all six editions of the GRFC, the number of people in Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent almost doubled between 2016 and 2021 – up from 94 million to almost 180 million.
This increase across the six years of the GRFC – both in terms of absolute numbers and the percentage of the analysed population in these three highest acute food insecurity phases – reflects increased availability of acute food insecurity data, broader geographical coverage, revised population figures, and deteriorating food security contexts in a number of countries.
The outlook for global acute food insecurity in 2022 is expected to deteriorate further relative to 2021. In particular, the unfolding war in Ukraine is likely to exacerbate the already severe 2022 acute food insecurity forecasts included in this report, given that the repercussions of the war on global food, energy and fertilizer prices and supplies have not yet been factored into most country-level projection analyses.
The GRFC focuses on food crises where the local capacities to respond are insufficient, prompting a request for the urgent mobilization of the international community, as well as in countries/territories where there is ample evidence that the magnitude and severity of the food crisis exceed the local resources and capacities needed to respond effectively.
It provides estimates for populations in countries/territories where data are available, based on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) and Cadre Harmonisé (CH) or comparable sources. Populations in Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent are in need of urgent food and livelihood assistance.
In 2021, almost 40 million people were facing Emergency or worse (IPC/CH Phase 4 or above) conditions, across 36 countries. Of critical concern were over half a million of people (570 000) facing Catastrophe (IPC/CH Phase 5) – starvation and death – in four countries: Ethiopia, South Sudan, southern Madagascar and Yemen. The number of people facing these dire conditions is four times that observed in 2020 and seven times higher than in 2016.
An additional 236 million people were in Stressed (IPC/CH Phase 2) across 41 countries/territories in 2021 and required livelihood support and assistance for disaster risk reduction to prevent them from slipping into worse levels of acute food security.
In 2021, almost 70 percent of the total number of people in Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent were found in ten food crisis countries/territories: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, northern Nigeria, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Sudan, South Sudan, Pakistan, and Haiti. In seven of these, conflict/insecurity was the primary driver of acute food insecurity.
Drivers of acute food insecurity in 2021
While the food crises profiled in the GRFC continue to be driven by multiple, integrated drivers that are often mutually reinforcing, conflict/insecurity remains the main driver. In 2021, around 139 million people were facing Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent across 24 countries/territories where conflict/insecurity was considered the primary driver.
This is a marked increase from 2020, when 99 million people in 23 conflict-affected countries/territories were in Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent. It was the key driver in three of the four countries with populations in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) – Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen.
Economic shocks formed the main driver in 21 countries in 2021, where 30.2 million people were in Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent. Global food prices rose to new heights in 2021 as a result of a combination of factors, notably an uneven global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread supply chain disruptions.
Domestic food price inflation in many low-income countries rose significantly, particularly those with weak currencies and a high reliance on food imports, in those where border closures, conflict or insecurity disrupted trade flows and where weather extremes severely curtailed food production/availability. These macroeconomic factors had a major impact on the purchasing power of the poorest households, many of which were still experiencing job and income losses due to pandemic-related restrictions.
Weather extremes were the main drivers of acute food insecurity in eight African countries, with 23.5 million people in Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent, including in southern Madagascar, where nearly 14 000 people were in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in April–September 2021 due to the effects of drought.
The impact of weather-related disasters on acute food insecurity has intensified since 2020, when it was considered the primary driver for 15.7 million people across 15 countries. Weather shocks – in the form of drought, rainfall deficits, flooding and cyclones – have been particularly detrimental in key crises in East, Central and Southern Africa, and Eurasia.
Malnutrition in food-crisis countries
Malnutrition remained at critical levels in countries affected by food crises, driven by a complex interplay of factors, including low quality food due to acute food insecurity and poor child-feeding practices, a high prevalence of childhood illnesses, and poor access to sanitation, drinking water and health care.
While data is limited, according to analyses carried out in 2021, almost 26 million children under 5 years old were suffering from wasting and in need of urgent treatment in 23 of the 35 major food crises. Within this, over 5 million children were at an increased risk of death due to severe wasting. In the ten food-crisis countries with the highest number of people in Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent, 17.5 million children were wasted.
Displacement in 2021
People uprooted from their homes are among the most vulnerable to acute food insecurity and malnutrition. In 2021, out of 51 million internally displaced people (IDP) globally, nearly 45 million were in 24 food-crisis countries/territories. The six countries/territories with the highest numbers of IDPs – the Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Sudan – were among the ten largest food crises in 2021 by numbers of people in Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent.
Out of around 21 million refugees and 4 million asylum seekers globally in 2021, over 60 percent (around 15.3 million people) were hosted in 52 food-crisis countries/territories, where a mix of conflict/insecurity, COVID-19, poverty, food insecurity and weather extremes compounded their humanitarian plight (UNHCR, November 2021).
A grim outlook for 2022
The situation is expected to worsen in 2022. In 41 out of the 53 countries/territories included in this report, as well as Cabo Verde, between 179 million and 181 million people are already forecast to be in Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) or equivalent in 2022. No forecast was available at the time of publication for 12 of the 53 countries/territories with an estimate reported in 2021.
For most of the world’s major food crises, acute food insecurity is expected to persist at similar levels to 2021 or increase. Major deteriorations are anticipated in northern Nigeria, Yemen, Burkina Faso and the Niger due to conflict, as well as in Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia, largely due to the impact of consecutive seasons of below-average rains. Though significant uncertainty exists, an estimated 2.5–4.99 million people in Ukraine will likely need humanitarian assistance in the near term (FEWS NET, April 2022).
Our collective challenge
The alarmingly high incidence of acute food insecurity and malnutrition starkly exposes the fragility of global and local food systems that are under mounting strain from the increased frequency and severity of weather extremes, the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing conflict and insecurity and rising global food prices.
The interconnectedness of drivers is further laid bare by the unfolding war in Ukraine, which not only compromises the food security of those directly affected by the war, but compounds existing challenges faced by millions of acutely food-insecure people worldwide.
Some countries facing food crises are particularly vulnerable to the risks to food markets created by the war in the Black Sea area, notably due to their high dependency on imports of food, fuel and agricultural inputs and/or vulnerability to global food price shocks.
Global humanitarian and development funding for food crises is failing to match growing needs. While funding for humanitarian food assistance has been falling since 2017, the current shortfall is particularly stark due the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown and prioritization of the public health response to the pandemic.
The international community must anticipate and act to mitigate the severe consequences of those already experiencing the highest levels of acute food insecurity, as well as of those in food stress. The situation calls more than ever for at-scale action to protect lives and livelihoods and support sustainable food systems and production where it is needed most.
In contexts where food availability is limited by reduced imports and food access curtailed by higher prices and reduced humanitarian food assistance, providing support to farmers to raise their productivity and improve their access to markets, and to rural communities to diversify their livelihoods and enhance their resilience to shocks is crucial.
The international community must mobilize the investments and political will needed to collectively address the causes and consequences of escalating food crises across humanitarian, development and peace perspectives. The urgency to do this will likely continue to grow in the coming months and years, driven by the direct and indirect effects of the war in Ukraine.
David Beasley, executive director of the U.N.'s World Food Program, stressed that "the global situation just keeps on getting worse."
"Conflict, the climate crisis, Covid-19, and surging food and fuel costs have created a perfect storm—and now we've got the war in Ukraine piling catastrophe on top of catastrophe," said Beasley. "Millions of people in dozens of countries are being driven to the edge of starvation. We urgently need emergency funding to pull them back from the brink and turn this global crisis around before it's too late."
* Full report (270pp):
May 2022
Soaring food prices driven by the war in Ukraine and pandemic-fuelled budget cuts are set to drive up child hunger.
UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell on the global food security crisis.
"This crisis is getting worse – and the lives of millions of children hang in the balance. "The combined force of conflict, climate change, and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was already wreaking havoc on families’ ability to feed their children. Food prices had already hit all-time highs. The war in Ukraine has only made this worse, driving food, fuel, and fertilizer shortages.
"Over the last few months as Executive Director of UNICEF, I have seen with my own eyes what food insecurity means for the most vulnerable children and women.
"It means more than a shortage of food. It means hunger. Malnourishment. Disease. Excruciating pain. Death.
"In April, I visited Gode, in Ethiopia, where I met children suffering from severe wasting – the most lethal form of acute malnutrition. These children were so thin and frail, they seemed skeletal. It was painfully clear that without treatment, some of them might die.
"The month before, I travelled to Kandahar in Afghanistan, where I met the mother of a newborn. "She was so malnourished that when I put my arm around her shoulders, I could feel her bones through her wrap. When I held her baby, I could barely feel its weight in my arms.
"Most people have never heard of wasting, the most lethal form of malnutrition. But it is one of the leading underlying causes of preventable deaths in children – and it is on the rise, even in comparatively stable communities.
"Children suffering from wasting can’t eat normally. You can’t save starving babies with a bag of wheat. They need urgent therapeutic nutrition, delivered in the form of a paste we call RUTF – ready to use therapeutic food.
"RUTF can literally mean the difference between life and death for a child. "But this year, around 10 million children who desperately need it are not receiving it. To make matters worse, the price of RUTF has already risen by 16 per cent. If funding doesn’t increase immediately to meet these rising costs, hundreds of thousands of children will not receive this lifesaving treatment.
"A child malnutrition catastrophe is not inevitable. We know what works, and we know how to deliver it. But we need to come together – and we need to act now.
World a ‘virtual tinderbox’ for catastrophic levels of severe malnutrition in children.
The number of children with severe wasting was rising even before war in Ukraine threatened to plunge the world deeper into a spiralling global food crisis - and it’s getting worse, UNICEF warned in a new Child Alert.
Just released, Severe wasting: An overlooked child survival emergency shows that in spite of rising levels of severe wasting in children and rising costs for life-saving treatment, global financing to save the lives of children suffering from wasting is also under threat.
“Even before the war in Ukraine placed a strain on food security worldwide, conflict, climate shocks and COVID-19 were already wreaking havoc on families’ ability to feed their children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “The world is rapidly becoming a virtual tinderbox of preventable child deaths and children suffering from wasting.
Currently, at least 10 million severely wasted children – or 2 in 3 – do not have access to the most effective treatment for wasting, ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF).
UNICEF warns that a combination of global shocks to food security worldwide – led by the war in Ukraine, economies struggling with pandemic recovery, and persistent drought conditions in some countries due to climate change – is creating conditions for a significant increase in global levels of severe wasting.
Meanwhile, the price of ready-to-use therapeutic food is projected to increase by up to 16 per cent over the next six months due to a sharp rise in the cost of raw ingredients. This could leave at least 600,000 additional children without access to life-saving treatment at current spending levels. Shipping and delivery costs are also expected to remain high.
“For millions of children every year, these sachets of therapeutic paste are the difference between life and death. A sixteen per cent price increase may sound manageable in the context of global food markets, but at the end of that supply chain is a desperately malnourished child, for whom the stakes are not manageable at all,” said Russell.
Severe wasting – where children are too thin for their height resulting in weakened immune systems – is the most immediate, visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. Worldwide, millions of children under five suffer from severe wasting, resulting in 1 in 5 deaths among this age group.
South Asia remains the ‘epicentre’ of severe wasting, where roughly 1 in 22 children is severely wasted, three times as high as sub-Saharan Africa. And across the rest of the world, countries are facing historically high rates of severe wasting.
In Afghanistan, for example, 1.1 million children are expected to suffer from severe wasting this year, nearly double the number in 2018. Drought in the Horn of Africa means the number of children with severe wasting could quickly rise from 1.7 million to 2 million, while a 26 per cent increase is predicted in the Sahel compared to 2018.
The Child Alert also notes that even countries in relative stability, such as Uganda, have seen a 40 per cent or more increase in child wasting since 2016, due to rising poverty and household food insecurity causing inadequate quality and frequency of diets for children and pregnant women.
Climate-related shocks including severe cyclical drought and inadequate access to clean water and sanitation services are contributing to the rising numbers.
The report warns that aid for wasting remains woefully low and is predicted to decline sharply in the coming years, with little hope of recovering to pre-pandemic levels before 2028. Global aid spent on wasting amounts to just 2.8 per cent of the total health sector ODA (Official Development Assistance) and 0.2 per cent of total ODA spending.
To reach every child with life-saving treatment for severe wasting, UNICEF is calling for:
Governments to increase wasting aid by at least 59 per cent above 2019 ODA levels to help reach to help reach all children in need of treatment in 23 high burden countries.
Countries to include treatment for child wasting under health and long-term development funding schemes so that all children can benefit from treatment programmes, not just those in humanitarian crisis settings.
Ensure that budget allocations to address the global hunger crisis include specific allocations for therapeutic food interventions to address the immediate needs of children suffering from severe wasting.
Donors and civil society organizations to prioritize funding for wasting to ensure a diverse, growing and a healthy ecosystem of donor support.
“There is simply no reason why a child should suffer from severe wasting – not when we have the ability to prevent it. But there is precious little time to reignite a global effort to prevent, detect and treat malnutrition before a bad situation gets much, much worse,” said Russell.

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