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World leaders need to prioritize humanitarian funding as acute hunger hits record levels
by IPC, World Food Program, agencies
3:00pm 2nd Aug, 2023
29 July 2023
World leaders need to prioritize humanitarian funding as acute hunger hits record levels, says Carl Skau - Deputy executive director of the World Food Program.
The United Nations World Food Program has been forced to cut food, cash payments and assistance to millions of people in many countries because of “a crippling funding crisis” that has seen its donations fall by about half as acute hunger is hitting record levels, a top official said Friday.
Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Program, told a news conference that at least 38 of the 86 countries where WFP operates have already seen cuts or plan to cut assistance soon — including Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and West Africa.
He said WFP’s operating requirement is $20 billion to deliver food assistance to reach 171.5 million people in great need, but it was being forced to plan for between $10 billion and $14 billion this year.
“We’re still aiming at that, but we have only so far this year gotten to about half of that, around $5 billion,” Skau said.
He said humanitarian needs were “going through the roof” in 2021 and 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine and its global implications. “Those needs continue to grow, those drivers are still there,” he said, “but the funding is drying up. So we’re looking at 2024 being even more dire.”
“The largest food and nutrition crisis in history today persists,” Skau said. “This year, 345 million people continue to be acutely food insecure while hundreds of millions of people are at risk of worsening hunger.”
Carl Skau said conflict and insecurity remain the primary drivers of acute hunger around the world, along with climate change, unrelenting natural disasters, persistent food price inflation and mounting debt stress — all during a slowdown in the global economy.
He urged the agency’s traditional donors to “step up and support us through this very difficult time.”
Asked why funding was drying up, Skau said to ask the donors. “But it’s clear that aid budgets, humanitarian budgets, both in Europe and the United States, are not where they were in 2021-2022”.
Mr. Skau said that in March, WFP was forced to cut rations from 75% to 50% for communities in Afghanistan facing emergency levels of hunger, and in May it was forced to cut food for 8 million people — 66% of the people it was assisting. Now, it is helping just 5 million people, he said.
In Syria, 5.5 million people who relied on WFP for food were already on 50% rations, Skau said, and in July the agency cut all rations to 2.5 million of them. In the Palestinian territories, WFP cut its cash assistance by 20% in May and in June. It cut its caseload by 60%, or 200,000 people. And in Yemen, he said, a huge funding gap will force WFP to cut aid to 7 million people as early as August.
In West Africa, where acute hunger is on the rise, Skau said, most countries are facing extensive ration cuts, particularly WFP’s seven largest crisis operations: Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon.
He said cutting aid to people who are only at the hunger level of crisis to help save those literally starving or in the category of catastrophic hunger means that those dropped will rapidly fall into the emergency and catastrophe categories, “and so we will have an additional humanitarian emergency on our hands down the road.”
“Ration cuts are clearly not the way to go forward,” Skau said.
He urged world leaders to prioritize humanitarian funding and invest in long-tern solutions to conflicts, poverty, development and other root causes of the current crisis.
* 30 June 2023: WFP Global Operational Response Plan: Update #8 - June 2023
The largest food and nutrition crisis in history continues to deepen its impact, 345 million people will be acutely food insecure this year and millions of people at risk of worsening hunger.
Conflicts, climate change and disasters, economic instability and financial crises – all compounded by the current funding crisis – converge in an overwhelming polycrisis driving the global food crisis.
An estimated 40.4 million people across 51 countries are in Emergency or worse levels of acute food insecurity in 2023. Without urgent life-saving action, these populations will be at risk of falling into catastrophe or famine conditions.
As of 2 June, WFP plans to reach 171.5 million people with full rations for the remainder of this year. This is an increase of 21.9 million people as compared to the February edition of this report, including recent adjustments from Corporate Scale-ups in Sudan and DRC.
An expected funding shortfall of a staggering 60 percent is already hampering activities, resulting in ration and caseload cuts in all regions. 2023 will be marked by very hard prioritization calls, as needs by far outpace funding levels.
25 July 2023
Global hunger remains unacceptably high, says Reena Ghelan - UN Famine Prevention and Response Coordinator
We are now halfway through a year marked by large, sudden-onset emergencies, including the Turkiye-Syria earthquake and the crisis in Sudan. Despite these crises contributing to the growing needs globally, humanitarian appeals were only 21 per cent funded by mid-July, a situation similar to last year’s when funding gaps hit communities affected by food crises, notably in the Horn of Africa.
In addition, the United Nations Secretary General has warned that hundred of millions facing hunger will pay the price following the recent decision by the Russian Federation to terminate the implementation of the Black Sea Initiative. He further said that the Initiative, “has been a lifeline for global food security in a troubled world”.
For many, the past few months have also served as a wake-up call about the climate emergency. People choked through wildfires’ smoke in Northern America, while communities in South Asia suffered through yet another historic
heatwave. At a time when global hunger remains unacceptably high – as evidenced by the recent report on the State of the Food Security and Nutrition 2023 - it is urgent to act on climate, as one of the drivers, if we want to reach the global goal of zero hunger by 2030.
Vulnerable countries are not only hit hard by the climate emergency but also by the debt crisis. UNCTAD’s recently published report showed that debt servicing is more unsustainable and expensive for low-income countries. These countries face the impossible choice of servicing their debt or serving their people. Contingency financing and debt restructuring are essential to help countries in crises strengthen sustainable food security.
And yet, amid this grim picture we are seeing glimmers of hope. From Niger to Somalia, women-led organizations are taking the lead in spearheading innovation. Local organizations are building climate resilience on the frontlines. They demonstrate the need for development and humanitarian partners to support change and communities to fight and prevent famine.
The numbers of people facing emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC/CH Phase 4) and of countries with populations facing catastrophic conditions (IPC/CH Phase 5) have been increasing almost steadily since 2016.
According to the latest famine and protracted IPC/CH Emergency analysis produced by the Global Network Against Food Crises, the most severe levels of acute food insecurity and acute malnutrition are found in parts of Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. Too often, these levels have been sustained for a prolonged period.
Over 10.3 million people in these areas are in Emergency (IPC/CH Phase 4), and 129,000 people are in Catastrophe (IPC/CH Phase 5) as of June 2023. Immediate action is critical in order to save lives and protect livelihoods, and prevent further deterioration into catastrophic conditions.
Focus on the Sahel and the Horn of Africa
Over 55 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda were acutely food insecure (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) last year, according to the latest IGAD Regional Focus report. Food crises are forecasted to escalate across the region in 2023, particularly in Kenya and Somalia. The worsening situation is attributed to the compounding effects of multiple shocks, including climate extremes and disasters, conflict and insecurity, and economic shocks. The impact of the conflict in Sudan is likely to further deteriorate the regional food crisis situation.
The food crisis in West Africa and the Sahel is also alarming. The CILSS Regional Focus report highlights that over 28 million people in 13 countries faced acute food and nutrition insecurity between March and May 2023. These represent the highest levels of acute hunger since the first Cadre Harmonise analysis in 2013. Projections for 2023 paint a grim picture. Up to 41.47 million people in 16 countries are expected to be acutely food insecure and need humanitarian assistance during the June–August 2023 lean season. Of these, approximately 45,200 people in Burkina Faso and Mali are expected to face catastrophic levels of food insecurity. (IPC/CH Phase 5).
Famine Prevention needs an all-hands-on-deck approach
The global food crisis was at the centre of the conversations at the 2023 Humanitarian Affairs Segment of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), held from 21 to 23 June 2023 in Geneva. The discussions brought together Member States, the UN, a broad range of humanitarian and development partners, local community representatives, as well as representatives from the private sector and the academia. They provided an opportunity to discuss meaningful, locally-driven and people-centred solutions to preventing famine.
Several red threads emerged, including the need to address the key drivers of the global food crisis through political solutions to end conflict and mitigate its impact, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The importance of scaling anticipatory action to save lives, and the criticality of local actors - particularly women-led organizations - in driving sustainable impact was highlighted throughout.
Overall, the notion of not being to “humanitarian our way out of the current humanitarian situation” was prevalent, with a strong focus on the need for an all-hands-on-deck approach to preventing famine in 2023 through holistic solutions and resilient agri-food systems.
Speaking at the High-Level Panel, the UN Famine Prevention and Response Coordinator, Reena Ghelani, highlighted five areas for action.
• First, redouble global efforts to prevent, reduce and end conflict and violence. Conflict remains the main driver of hunger for 117 million people in 19 countries, almost half of those affected and it absorbs almost 80 per cent of food sector aid.
• Second, invest seriously in climate adaptation and mitigation in the most vulnerable countries. Climate change is the main driver of hunger for 57 million people, and while its impact will continue to be most acutely felt in the poorest and most crisis-affected countries, only a fraction of development or climate finance goes to such contexts.
• Third, address the social, governance and economic factors that fuel those crises. Economic factors are the main driver of hunger for 84 million people, almost triple the number compared to 2021. Around 60 percent of low income countries are in or at high risk of debt distress, leaving limited resources to address the crises in their own countries.
• Fourth, place women and girls at the centre of our efforts to combat these crises. Closing the gender gap in agriculture inputs alone could lift approximately 100-150 million people out of hunger and reduce poverty rates by between 12 and 25 percent.
• And fifth, the humanitarian and development community must be faster, better and less riskaverse. Only a third of development aid goes to countries with food crises. When it does, only 11 percent is channelled to the food or agriculture sectors, and not enough of it is invested in rural areas where 80 percent of the most food insecure people live. Humanitarian response, meanwhile, is funded at less than 21 percent and is not sufficiently focused on anticipatory action, resilience and sustainability.
As the UN Secretary-General recently noted, a world without extreme poverty or hunger could be within reach. We have the information, expertise and technology to achieve that. What we need now is the collective commitment and hard work and the tough choices to make it happen.
We can’t fight famine without gender equality
Gender equality is threatened by the current hunger emergency. There are now about 150 million more hungry women and girls than men, and the gender gap is increasing quickly.
A series of recent reports, including OCHA’s Gendered Drivers, Risks and Impacts of Food Insecurity, Beyond Hunger and FAO’s Status of Women in Agrifood Systems, lay bare the disproportionate impacts of the global hunger crisis on women and girls, including in the areas of education, gender-based violence, and sexual and reproductive health.
Women working in agrifood systems often face marginalization, as well as worse working conditions and pay than men. Women also have less secure tenure over land and less access to credit and training. Despite their active role and crucial contributions in food systems and climate action, women often lack access to decision-making and leadership positions.
We must elevate the voices of women’s organizations active in food security, and to ensure their leadership role is acknowledged and promoted through mutual support, funding, and a better access to land, credit and productive assets. Women and girls hold the key to fighting famine. We need to start listening to them.

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