Hundreds of millions of people face hunger as historic food crisis looms
by Global Humanitarian Overview 2023
30 Nov. 2022
The largest global food crisis in modern history is unfolding, driven by conflict, climate shocks and the looming threat of global recession. Hundreds of millions of people are at risk of worsening hunger. Acute food insecurity is escalating, and at least 222 million people across 53 countries are expected to face acute food insecurity and need urgent assistance by the end of 2022.
There is also a gender dimension, with women more likely to be affected by hunger. In 2021, nearly 32 per cent of women in the world were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to nearly 28 per cent of men.
Starvation is a very real risk for 45 million people in 37 countries. As of October 2022, 989,000 people were already in Catastrophe (IPC/CH Phase 5): 301,000 of them were in Somalia, the remainder in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti (which recorded populations in IPC Phase 5 for the first time), South Sudan and Yemen.
On top of this, 60 million children worldwide are at risk of being acutely malnourished by the end of 2022, compared to 47 million in 2019.
Countries facing catastrophic levels of hunger
Afghanistan is facing an unprecedented hunger crisis due to the combination of a collapsing economy, high food prices and persistent drought. Nearly 19 million people – 45 per cent of the population – are facing high levels of acute food insecurity between June and November 2022 – 6 million of them are in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). They include, for the first time since the introduction of IPC in Afghanistan, 20,000 people who are already facing Catastrophic conditions (IPC Phase 5) between March and May 2022 due to limited humanitarian access.
In Ethiopia, the effects of ongoing violence and conflict in 2022 are being compounded by one of the most severe droughts in the last 40 years. More than 20 million people are estimated to be food insecure in the country, including 13 million people in northern Ethiopia. The lack of updated IPC data remains a major concern. The latest available IPC projections were valid up to September 2021, indicating around 401,000 people in Tigray faced Catastrophic conditions (IPC Phase 5).
As of October 2022, Haiti recorded people experiencing Catastrophic levels of food insecurity for the first time: 4.7 million people are currently facing acute hunger (IPC Phase 3 and above), of whom 19,000 are in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Natural hazards continue to deliver shocks to an already vulnerable population, which is also facing a stalled economy, poor job prospects and a basic food basket that is out of reach for many Haitians.
In Somalia, an anticipated fifth consecutive season of poor rainfall, exceptionally high food prices, conflict, insecurity and disease outbreaks are causing dire conditions. Famine (IPC Phase 5) is projected among rural residents in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts and among displaced people in Baidoa town of Bay Region in southern Somalia, where malnutrition and mortality are already at alarming levels.
Between October and December 2022, approximately 6.7 million people across Somalia are expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above). This number includes 2.2 million people who are expected to be in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and at least 301,000 people in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5).
The situation in South Sudan remains alarming, with almost two thirds of the population in the most severe phases of acute food insecurity (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above). While a significant scale-up in humanitarian response averted a famine-likely situation in 2021, at least 87,000 people are facing starvation and death (IPC Phase 5) as of October 2022.
In Yemen, earlier projections of 19 million people expected to be in acute food insecurity in the second half of 2022 may be less grim than anticipated. However, the country continues to experience acute levels of food insecurity. Economic crisis, a fragile truce that expired on 2 October, and elevated global commodity prices contribute to instability and hunger. Urgently needed assistance is complicated by increasing operational and food procurement costs, as well as supply shortages and access challenges.
Syria is home to 12 million food insecure people, equating to roughly 54 per cent of the country’s population. Among these people, 2.5 million are severely food insecure.
Conflict remains the key driver of acute food insecurity.
More than 70 per cent of people experiencing hunger live in areas afflicted by war and violence. In 2021, around 139 million people in 24 countries and territories affected by conflict and insecurity were facing Crisis levels of food insecurity or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above). In that same year, conflict was the key driver in three of the four countries with populations in Catastrophe (IPC/CH Phase 5) – Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen.
Food prices have been rising at an alarming rate since mid-2020 and now remain at a 10-year high, despite declining slightly in recent months. These fluctuations are unlikely to curb domestic food inflation in countries facing a toxic combination of tumbling currency value and high inflation: 99 countries have had year-on-year food inflation of 10 per cent or more, with food inflation exceeding 15 per cent in 63 countries, making essential purchases unaffordable for many people.
Economic shocks were the main driver of food insecurity across 21 countries. A total of 30.2 million people in these countries were in Crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) in 2021, reflecting soaring food prices due to uneven global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation and widespread supply chain disruptions. This was even more acutely felt in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, by the end of July 2022, prices of staple cereals had doubled in parts of South Sudan compared to February 2022.
When families do not have enough food to eat or enough money to buy food, they may resort to extreme coping mechanisms in order to acquire food, including family separation, child labour and child marriage.
The triple crisis: Food, fuel and fertilizer
The war in Ukraine – one of the world’s major breadbaskets – is compounding what is already a year of catastrophic hunger. Together, Ukraine and Russia supply 30 per cent of globally traded wheat, 20 per cent of maize and 70 per cent of sunflower supplies. A shortfall in export supplies is driving prices up, leaving import-dependent countries with higher food import bills – or less food to eat.
Since the crisis in Ukraine began, food shipments from the Black Sea have been reduced and costs have grown significantly, with immediate impact on import-dependent economies. In addition, fertilizer prices are increasing to record levels. This will significantly affect countries’ ability to grow food, increasing food insecurity far beyond 2022 levels.
Extreme climatic and weather events 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). In Madagascar, severe droughts pushed almost 14,000 people into Catastrophic levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 5) between April and September 2021.
As needs increase, so do operational costs to help people in need. Scaled-up funding for cash, food and livelihood assistance remains an urgent priority, especially as the global food crisis has not yet reached its peak.
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Humanitarian action critical to preventing starvation and death
by World Food Programme (WFP), FAO, agencies
The number of people facing acute food insecurity worldwide is expected to continue to rise precipitously, as the food crisis tightens its grip on 19 ‘hunger hotspots’ – driven by rising conflict, weather extremes, and economic instability aggravated by the pandemic and the ripple effects of the crisis in Ukraine, a joint UN report released today has found.
The ‘Hunger Hotspots – FAO-WFP early warnings on acute food insecurity’ report - issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) calls for urgent humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods and prevent famine in hotspot countries where acute food insecurity is expected to worsen from October 2022 to January 2023.
The report offers country-specific recommendations on priorities for anticipatory action – short-term protective measures to be put in place before new humanitarian needs materialize; and emergency response – actions to address existing humanitarian needs.
“The severe drought in the Horn of Africa has pushed people to the brink of starvation, destroying crops and killing livestock on which their survival depends. Acute food insecurity is rising fast and spreading across the world. People in the poorest countries in particular who have yet to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are suffering from the ripple effects of ongoing conflicts, in terms of prices, food and fertilizer supplies, as well as the climate emergency. Without a massively scaled up humanitarian response that has at its core time-sensitive and life-saving agricultural assistance, the situation will likely worsen in many countries in the coming months,” the report states.
“This is the third time in 10 years that Somalia has been threatened with a devastating famine. The famine in 2011 was caused by two consecutive failed rainy seasons as well as conflict. Today we’re staring at a perfect storm: a likely fifth consecutive failed rainy season that will see drought lasting well into 2023. But the people at the sharp end of today’s crisis are also facing soaring food prices and severely limited opportunities to earn a living following the pandemic. We urgently need to get help to those in grave danger of starvation in Somalia and the world’s other hunger hotspots,” said David Beasley, WFP’s Executive Director.
The report spotlights the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa, where the longest drought in over 40 years is forecast to continue - with the fifth failed rainy season in a row on the horizon - adding to the cumulative, devastating effects that successive rainfall deficits, economic crises and conflict have had on vulnerable households since 2020. Water scarcity has led to below average harvests, livestock deaths, and forced hundreds of thousands of people off their land in search of sustenance, while increasing the risk of intercommunal and resource-based conflict.
Up to 26 million people are expected to face Crisis or worse (IPC Phase 3 and above) levels of food insecurity in Somalia, southern and eastern Ethiopia, and northern and eastern Kenya. With humanitarian assistance at risk of being cut due to funding shortfalls, the spectre of large-scale deaths from hunger looms large in Somalia, with famine likely to take hold in the districts of Baidoa and Burhakaba in Bay region come October. Without an adequate humanitarian response, analysts expect that by December, as many as four children or two adults per 10 000 people will die every day. Hundreds of thousands are already facing starvation today with staggering levels of malnutrition expected among children under 5.
Globally, an all-time high of 970,000 people are expected to face catastrophic hunger (IPC Phase 5) and are starving or projected to starve or at risk of deterioration to catastrophic conditions in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, if no action is taken – ten times more than six years ago when only two countries had populations in Phase 5.
According to the report, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen remain at the ‘highest alert’ as hotspots, alone account for almost a million people facing catastrophic levels of hunger (IPC Phase 5 ‘Catastrophe’) with starvation and death a daily reality and where extreme levels of mortality and malnutrition may unfold without immediate action.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Kenya, the Sahel, the Sudan and Syria remain ‘of very high concern’ with deteriorating conditions – as in the June edition of the quarterly report – but the alert is extended to the Central African Republic and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Guatemala, Honduras and Malawi have been added to the list of countries, joining Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Madagascar that remain hunger hotspots.
Violent conflict remains the primary driver of acute hunger with analysis indicating a continuation of this trend in 2022, with particular concern for Ethiopia, where an intensification of conflict and interethnic violence in several regions is expected to further escalate, driving up humanitarian needs.
Weather extremes such as floods, tropical storms and droughts remain critical drivers in many parts of the globe, and a “new normal” of consecutive and extreme weather events is becoming clear - particularly in the hotspots. Devastating floods have affected 33 million people in Pakistan alone this year and South Sudan faces a fourth consecutive year of extreme flooding. Meanwhile, a third consecutive season of below-average rainfall is projected in Syria.
For the first time in 20 years, the La Nina climate event has continued through three consecutive years – affecting agriculture and causing crop and livestock losses in many parts of the world, including Afghanistan, West and East Africa and Syria.
On the economic front, the persistently high global prices of food, fuel, and fertilizer – continue to drive high domestic prices and economic instability. Rising inflation rates have led governments to enact monetary-tightening measures in advanced economies which have also increased the cost of credit of low-income countries. This is constraining the ability of heavily indebted countries – the number of countries increased significantly in recent years - to finance the import of essential items.
In the face of these macroeconomic challenges, many governments are introducing austerity measures affecting incomes and purchasing power – particularly among the most vulnerable families. These trends are expected to increase in coming months, the report notes, with poverty and acute food insecurity rising further.
Humanitarian assistance is crucial to save lives and prevent starvation, death and the total collapse of livelihoods – the report notes, highlighting that insecurity, administrative and bureaucratic impediments, movement restrictions and physical barriers severely limit humanitarian responders’ access to people facing acute hunger in eleven of the hotspot countries, including all six of the countries where populations are facing or are projected to face starvation (IPC Phase 5), or are at risk of deterioration towards catastrophic conditions.
The report calls for targeted humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods in the 19 hunger hotspots, noting that in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, humanitarian action will be critical in preventing further starvation and death.
20 Sep. 2022
With one person estimated to be dying of hunger every four seconds, 238 local and international non-governmental organisations are calling on leaders gathering at the 77th UN General Assembly to take decisive action to end the spiralling global hunger crisis.
Organisations from 75 countries have signed an open letter expressing outrage at skyrocketing hunger levels and recommendations for action. A staggering 345 million people are now experiencing acute hunger, a number that has more than doubled since 2019.
Despite promises from world leaders to never allow famine again in the 21st century, famine is once more imminent in Somalia. Around the world, 50 million people are on the brink of starvation in 45 countries.
Dear UN Member States,
"No water, no food, a hopeless life. Above all, my children are starving. They are on the verge of death. Unless they get some food, I'm afraid they will die." - Sumaya, 32, mother of four, IDP camp in the Somali Region, Ethiopia
We, the undersigned 238 non-governmental organizations working with the most vulnerable communities and witnessing the catastrophic effects of the unprecedented global food crisis unfolding, urgently request that you act immediately to prevent more unnecessary suffering.
From Somalia to Haiti, South Sudan to Yemen, Afghanistan to Nigeria, people’s lives in the most fragile contexts are being devastated by a global food crisis, fueled by a deadly mix of conflict, climate change, rising costs and economic crises, exacerbated by COVID-19 and the Ukraine conflict.
Fifty million people are now just one step away from starvation. Over 345 million more are bowing under the crushing weight of hunger, struggling to feed their families and at risk of death.
Behind these statistics are real people and lack of action has horrific, real life and death consequences. For the woman who fled her country to escape the violence of war and now has her food ration halved or suspended completely. For the hungry child forced to drop out of school to work so their family can eat. For the young girl forced into marriage, where she faces sexual exploitation and abuse. And for the caregiver who makes the long journey to seek treatment for a severely malnourished toddler only to find the health clinic is closed due to funding shortages.
The international community and national governments are failing to meet their duty and have prioritised political and economic interests over the wellbeing of the world’s most vulnerable children, families and communities. While political leaders have made many promises, in the cities, towns, villages, and refugee and internal displacement camps where millions of lives hang in the balance, far too little has changed.
In a world of plenty, leaving people to starve is a policy choice. We call on you as world leaders to take urgent action to stem this crisis and prevent future ones.
You must immediately deliver the funding needed to reach 50 million people on the edge of starvation to save lives NOW. You must also support vulnerable countries and communities to build resilience NOW.
And you must take action to anticipate, prevent and prepare for subsequent crises to secure the future, including by delivering much needed climate finance, reallocated Special Drawing Rights, and meaningful debt relief.
We repeatedly miss the opportunity to prevent hunger and hardship from happening in the first place by not responding quickly enough to early warnings to save lives, build resilience, and make the smart investments needed to sustainably address hunger crises in the long term.
If the pandemic taught us anything it is that prevention is more humane and much less expensive than waiting to respond. The lack of political will and institutional failure to act quickly before the worst-case hits means people are being left to lurch from crisis to crisis. People are not starving; they are being starved.
Accompanying this letter, we outline a set of specific recommendations to help address the current hunger crisis and prevent future crises, endorsed by NGOs across the world.
We have already lost far too much time – the families we work with every day need action NOW.
The lives of millions of girls, boys, women, and men depend on the bold and courageous actions you, the United Nations Member States, take - or fail to take – when you gather at the UN General Assembly in the coming weeks.
We must not let people starve to death on our watch. There is no place for famine in the 21st century.
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