People's Stories Human Rights Today

Threats from the misuse of artificial intelligence
by BMJ, Future of Life Institute, UNESCO, agencies
May 2023
Threats from the misuse of artificial intelligence, report from the British Medical Journal
In this section, we describe three sets of threats associated with the misuse of Artificial Intelligence (AI), whether it be deliberate, negligent, accidental or because of a failure to anticipate and prepare to adapt to the transformational impacts of AI on society.
The first set of threats comes from the ability of AI to rapidly clean, organise and analyse massive data sets consisting of personal data, including images collected by the increasingly ubiquitous presence of cameras, and to develop highly personalised and targeted marketing and information campaigns as well as greatly expanded systems of surveillance.
This ability of AI can be put to good use, for example, improving our access to information or countering acts of terrorism. But it can also be misused with grave consequences.
The use of this power to generate commercial revenue for social media platforms, for example, has contributed to the rise in polarisation and extremist views observed in many parts of the world. It has also been harnessed by other commercial actors to create a vast and powerful personalised marketing infrastructure capable of manipulating consumer behaviour.
Experimental evidence has shown how AI used at scale on social media platforms provides a potent tool for political candidates to manipulate their way into power and it has indeed been used to manipulate political opinion and voter behaviour Cases of AI-driven subversion of elections include the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections, the 2016 US presidential election and the 2017 French presidential election.
When combined with the rapidly improving ability to distort or misrepresent reality with deepfakes, AI-driven information systems may further undermine democracy by causing a general breakdown in trust or by driving social division and conflict, with ensuing public health impacts. AI-driven surveillance may also be used by governments and other powerful actors to control and oppress people more directly.
This is perhaps best illustrated by China’s Social Credit System, which combines facial recognition software and analysis of ‘big data’ repositories of people’s financial transactions, movements, police records and social relationships to produce assessments of individual behaviour and trustworthiness, which results in the automatic sanction of individuals deemed to have behaved poorly.
Sanctions include fines, denying people access to services such as banking and insurance services, or preventing them from being able to travel or send their children to fee-paying schools. This type of AI application may also exacerbate social and health inequalities and lock people into their existing socioeconomic strata.
But China is not alone in the development of AI surveillance. At least 75 countries, ranging from liberal democracies to military regimes, have been expanding such systems. Although democracy and rights to privacy and liberty may be eroded or denied without AI, the power of AI makes it easier for authoritarian or totalitarian regimes to be either established or solidified and also for such regimes to be able to target particular individuals or groups in society for persecution and oppression.
The second set of threats concerns the development of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS). There are many applications of AI in military and defence systems, some of which may be used to promote security and peace. But the risks and threats associated with LAWS outweigh any putative benefits.
Weapons are autonomous in so far as they can locate, select and ‘engage’ human targets without human supervision. This dehumanisation of lethal force is said to constitute the third revolution in warfare, following the first and second revolutions of gunpowder and nuclear arms.
Lethal autonomous weapons come in different sizes and forms. But crucially, they include weapons and explosives, that may be attached to small, mobile and agile devices (eg, quadcopter drones) with the intelligence and ability to self-pilot and capable of perceiving and navigating their environment. Moreover, such weapons could be cheaply mass-produced and relatively easily set up to kill at an industrial scale.
For example, it is possible for a million tiny drones equipped with explosives, visual recognition capacity and autonomous navigational ability to be contained within a regular shipping container and programmed to kill en masse without human supervision.
As with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, LAWS present humanity with a new weapon of mass destruction, one that is relatively cheap and that also has the potential to be selective about who or what is targeted.
This has deep implications for the future conduct of armed conflict as well as for international, national and personal security more generally. Debates have been taking place in various forums on how to prevent the proliferation of LAWS, and about whether such systems can ever be kept safe from cyber-infiltration or from accidental or deliberate misuse.
The third set of threats arises from the loss of jobs that will accompany the widespread deployment of AI technology. Projections of the speed and scale of job losses due to AI-driven automation range from tens to hundreds of millions over the coming decade.
Much will depend on the speed of development of AI, robotics and other relevant technologies, as well as policy decisions made by governments and society. However, in a survey of most-cited authors on AI in 2012/2013, participants predicted the full automation of human labour shortly after the end of this century.
It is already anticipated that in this decade, AI-driven automation will disproportionately impact low/middle-income countries by replacing lower-skilled jobs, and then continue up the skill-ladder, replacing larger and larger segments of the global workforce, including in high-income countries.
While there would be many benefits from ending work that is repetitive, dangerous and unpleasant, we already know that unemployment is strongly associated with adverse health outcomes and behaviour, including harmful consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs, being overweight, and having lower self-rated quality of life and health and higher levels of depression and risk of suicide.
However, an optimistic vision of a future where human workers are largely replaced by AI-enhanced automation would include a world in which improved productivity would lift everyone out of poverty and end the need for toil and labour.
However, the amount of exploitation our planet can sustain for economic production is limited, and there is no guarantee that any of the added productivity from AI would be distributed fairly across society.
Thus far, increasing automation has tended to shift income and wealth from labour to the owners of capital, and appears to contribute to the increasing degree of maldistribution of wealth across the globe.
Furthermore, we do not know how society will respond psychologically and emotionally to a world where work is unavailable or unnecessary, nor are we thinking much about the policies and strategies that would be needed to break the association between unemployment and ill health.
The threat of self-improving artificial general intelligence
Self-improving general-purpose AI, or AGI, is a theoretical machine that can learn and perform the full range of tasks that humans can. By being able to learn and recursively improve its own code, it could improve its capacity to improve itself and could theoretically learn to bypass any constraints in its code and start developing its own purposes, or alternatively it could be equipped with this capacity from the beginning by humans.
The vision of a conscious, intelligent and purposeful machine able to perform the full range of tasks that humans can has been the subject of academic and science fiction writing for decades. But regardless of whether conscious or not, or purposeful or not, a self-improving or self-learning general purpose machine with superior intelligence and performance across multiple dimensions would have serious impacts on humans.
We are now seeking to create machines that are vastly more intelligent and powerful than ourselves. The potential for such machines to apply this intelligence and power—whether deliberately or not—in ways that could harm or subjugate humans—is real and has to be considered.
If realised, the connection of AGI to the internet and the real world, including via vehicles, robots, weapons and all the digital systems that increasingly run our societies, could well represent the ‘biggest event in human history’.
Although the effects and outcome of AGI cannot be known with any certainty, multiple scenarios may be envisioned. These include scenarios where AGI, despite its superior intelligence and power, remains under human control and is used to benefit humanity. Alternatively, we might see AGI operating independently of humans and coexisting with humans in a benign way.
Logically however, there are scenarios where AGI could present a threat to humans, and possibly an existential threat, by intentionally or unintentionally causing harm directly or indirectly, by attacking or subjugating humans or by disrupting the systems or using up resources we depend on.
A survey of AI society members predicted a 50% likelihood of AGI being developed between 2040 and 2065, with 18% of participants believing that the development of AGI would be existentially catastrophic. Presently, dozens of institutions are conducting research and development into AGI.
Assessing risk and preventing harm
Many of the threats described above arise from the deliberate, accidental or careless misuse of AI by humans. Even the risk and threat posed by a form of AGI that exists and operates independently of human control is currently still in the hands of humans. However, there are differing opinions about the degree of risk posed by AI and about the relative trade-offs between risk and potential reward, and harms and benefits.
Nonetheless, with exponential growth in AI research and development, the window of opportunity to avoid serious and potentially existential harms is closing. The future outcomes of the development of AI and AGI will depend on policy decisions taken now and on the effectiveness of regulatory institutions that we design to minimise risk and harm and maximise benefit.
Crucially, as with other technologies, preventing or minimising the threats posed by AI will require international agreement and cooperation, and the avoidance of a mutually destructive AI ‘arms race’. It will also require decision making that is free of conflicts of interest and protected from the lobbying of powerful actors with a vested interest.
Worryingly, large private corporations with vested financial interests and little in the way of democratic and public oversight are leading in the field of AGI research.
Different parts of the UN system are now engaged in a desperate effort to ensure that our international social, political and legal institutions catch up with the rapid technological advancements being made with AI.
In 2020, for example, the UN established a High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation to foster global dialogue and cooperative approaches for a safe and inclusive digital future.
In September 2021, the head of the UN Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights called on all states to place a moratorium on the sale and use of AI systems until adequate safeguards are put in place to avoid the ‘negative, even catastrophic’ risks posed by them.
And in November 2021, the 193 member states of UNESCO adopted an agreement to guide the construction of the necessary legal infrastructure to ensure the ethical development of AI. However, the UN still lacks a legally binding instrument to regulate AI and ensure accountability at the global level.
At the regional level, the European Union has an Artificial Intelligence Act which classifies AI systems into three categories: unacceptable-risk, high-risk and limited and minimal-risk. This Act could serve as a stepping stone towards a global treaty although it still falls short of the requirements needed to protect several fundamental human rights and to prevent AI from being used in ways that would aggravate existing inequities and discrimination.
There have also been efforts focused on LAWS, with an increasing number of voices calling for stricter regulation or outright prohibition, just as we have done with biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. State parties to the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons have been discussing lethal autonomous weapon systems since 2014, but progress has been slow.
What can and should the medical and public health community do? Perhaps the most important thing is to simply raise the alarm about the risks and threats posed by AI, and to make the argument that speed and seriousness are essential if we are to avoid the various harmful and potentially catastrophic consequences of AI-enhanced technologies being developed and used without adequate safeguards and regulation.
It is also important that we not only target our concerns at AI, but also at the actors who are driving the development of AI too quickly or too recklessly, and at those who seek only to deploy AI for self-interest or malign purposes.
If AI is to ever fulfil its promise to benefit humanity and society, we must protect democracy, strengthen our public-interest institutions, and dilute power so that there are effective checks and balances.
This includes ensuring transparency and accountability of the parts of the military–corporate industrial complex driving AI developments and the social media companies that are enabling AI-driven, targeted misinformation to undermine our democratic institutions and rights to privacy.
Given that the world of work and employment will drastically change over the coming decades, we should deploy our public health expertise in evidence-based advocacy for a fundamental and radical rethink of social and economic policy to enable future generations to thrive in a world in which human labour is no longer a central or necessary component to the production of goods and services..
Mar. 2023
Pause Giant AI Experiments. Future of Life Institute
AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity, as shown by extensive research and acknowledged by top AI labs. As stated in the widely-endorsed Asilomar AI Principles, Advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources. Unfortunately, this level of planning and management is not happening, even though recent months have seen AI labs locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict, or reliably control.
Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human-competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: Should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilization? Such decisions must not be delegated to unelected tech leaders.
Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable. This confidence must be well justified and increase with the magnitude of a system's potential effects.
OpenAI's recent statement regarding artificial general intelligence, states that "At some point, it may be important to get independent review before starting to train future systems, and for the most advanced efforts to agree to limit the rate of growth of compute used for creating new models." We agree. That point is now.
Therefore, we call on all AI labs to immediately pause the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4. This pause should be public and verifiable, and include all key actors. If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium.
AI labs and independent experts should use this pause to jointly develop and implement a set of shared safety protocols for advanced AI design and development that are rigorously audited and overseen by independent outside experts. These protocols should ensure that systems adhering to them are safe beyond a reasonable doubt.
This does not mean a pause on AI development in general, merely a stepping back from the dangerous race to ever-larger unpredictable black-box models with emergent capabilities.
AI research and development should be refocused on making today's powerful, state-of-the-art systems more accurate, safe, interpretable, transparent, robust, aligned, trustworthy, and loyal. In parallel, AI developers must work with policymakers to dramatically accelerate development of robust AI governance systems.
These should at a minimum include: new and capable regulatory authorities dedicated to AI; oversight and tracking of highly capable AI systems and large pools of computational capability; provenance and watermarking systems to help distinguish real from synthetic and to track model leaks; a robust auditing and certification ecosystem; liability for AI-caused harm; robust public funding for technical AI safety research; and well-resourced institutions for coping with the dramatic economic and political disruptions (especially to democracy) that AI will cause. Society has hit pause on other technologies with potentially catastrophic effects on society. We must do so now.

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Urgent action needed to address humanitarian crises, including threat of famines
by UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, agencies
May 2023
258 million people in 58 countries faced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels in 2022, reports Global Network Against Food Crises (GRFC)
At least 258 million people in 58 countries were in Crisis or worse acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 or above) in 2022. This is the highest on record since the Global Network Against Food Crises (GRFC) started reporting these data in 2017.
It marks the fourth consecutive year of rising numbers of people in IPC/CH Phase 3 or above due to persistently high numbers in some countries, worsening situations in others, as well as increased analysis.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres writes in the report’s foreword:
"More than a quarter of a billion people are now facing acute levels of hunger, and some are on the brink of starvation. That’s unconscionable.
This seventh edition of the Global Report on Food Crises is a stinging indictment of humanity’s failure to make progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 2 to end hunger, and achieve food security and improved nutrition for all.
In fact, we are moving in the wrong direction. Conflicts and mass displacement continue to drive global hunger. Rising poverty, deepening inequalities, rampant underdevelopment, the climate crisis and natural disasters also contribute to food insecurity.
As always, it is the most vulnerable who bear the brunt of this failure, facing soaring food prices that were aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and, despite some declines, are still above 2019 levels due to the war in Ukraine. All this, while humanitarian funding to fight hunger and malnutrition pales in comparison to what is needed.
This crisis demands fundamental, systemic change. This report makes clear that progress is possible. We have the data and know-how to build a more resilient, inclusive, sustainable world where hunger has no home — including through stronger food systems, and massive investments in food security and improved nutrition for all people, no matter where they live.
With collective action and a commitment to change, we can ensure that every person, everywhere, has access to the most basic of human needs: food and nutrition".
Acute food insecurity is defined as when a person's inability to consume adequate food puts their lives or livelihoods in immediate danger. It draws on internationally accepted measures of acute hunger, such as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) and the Cadre Harmonise (CH).
People in seven countries faced starvation conditions in 2022 - in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Haiti, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
At least 35 million people were in Emergency (IPC/CH Phase 4) in 39 countries/territories. Households in this extremely severe situation face large food gaps, which are either reflected in high acute malnutrition rates and excess mortality.
Around half of the total population identified in IPC/CH Phase 4 was found in four countries – Afghanistan, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Sudan. More than 40 percent of the population in IPC/CH Phase 3 or above resided in five countries/territories – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Yemen.
Recurrent shocks are driving up acute food insecurity
The food crises outlined in the GRFC are the result of interconnected, mutually reinforcing drivers – conflict and insecurity, economic shocks and weather extremes.
In 2022, these key drivers were associated with lingering socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19, the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine and repeated droughts and other weather extremes.
Conflict/insecurity was the most significant driver in 19 countries/territories where 117.1 million people were in IPC/CH Phase 3 or above or equivalent.
Six of the seven countries/territories with populations facing Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) – Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen – have protracted conflicts, while the very severe levels of acute food insecurity in Haiti are attributable to escalating gang violence in the capital.
Economic shocks (including the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 and the repercussions of the war in Ukraine) became the main driver in 27 countries with 83.9 million people in IPC/CH Phase 3 or above or equivalent – up from 30.2 million people in 21 countries in 2021.
The economic resilience of poor countries has decreased, and they now face extended recovery periods and less ability to cope with future shocks.
Weather extremes were the primary driver of acute food insecurity in 12 countries where 56.8 million people were in IPC/CH Phase 3 or above or equivalent, more than double the number of people (23.5 million) in eight countries in 2021. These extremes included sustained drought in the Horn of Africa, devastating flooding in Pakistan, and tropical storms, cyclones and drought in Southern Africa.
High levels of child wasting in food-crisis countries/ territories curbs development and wellbeing
Malnutrition is multidimensional, and child nutritional status is determined by multiple factors. The GRFC demonstrates that areas with high levels of acute food insecurity tend to have high levels of child wasting, which, when combined, stymie the development and wellbeing of populations in the short, medium and long term.
In 30 of the 42 major food crises analysed in the GRFC 2023 where data on malnutrition were available, over 35 million children under 5 years of age suffered from wasting, with 9.2 million of them severely wasted (the most lethal form of undernutrition and a major contributor to child mortality).
Out of the total estimated children with wasting in those countries, about 65 percent lived in nine out of the ten countries with the highest number of people in IPC/CH Phase 3.
The global food crisis worsened the undernutrition situation of adolescent girls and women whose livelihoods, income and access to nutritious food have been disproportionately affected by conflict, climate change, poverty and other economic shocks, including that of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Number of forcibly displaced people in food crisis countries/territories is the highest in GRFC history
Displacement is both a driver and a consequence of food insecurity. People forced to flee their homes lose access to their livelihoods (including safe access to food, water and other necessities) while also facing major barriers to income, humanitarian aid, healthcare, and other essential services, exacerbating their vulnerability to food insecurity and undernutrition.
By mid-2022, the number of displaced people globally, including refugees, asylum seekers, Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and other people in need of international protection, had reached 103 million.
In 2022, displacement was caused by major conflicts, severe economic crises and climate change and weather extremes. By the end of 2022, nearly 53.2 million people were internally displaced in 25 countries/territories identified as food crises in the GRFC 2023.
The countries/territories with the highest numbers of IDPs in 2022 nearly mirrored the list of the 10 food crises with the largest numbers of people in IPC/CH Phase 3 or above or equivalent. In 2022, about 19.7 million refugees and asylum seekers were hosted in 55 out of the 58 food-crisis countries/territories identified in this GRFC edition.
The impact of the war in Ukraine on food crises around the world
The war in Ukraine has had an outsized impact on global food systems due to the major contributions Ukraine and the Russian Federation make to the production and trade of fuel, fertilizers and essential food commodities like wheat, maize and sunflower oil.
The timing of the war also contributed to this impact as higher international commodity prices in the first half of 2022 compounded the macroeconomic challenges that countries continued to face after the COVID-19 pandemic. This was particularly true for GRFC countries/territories as they were more likely to be exposed to commodity market volatility given many of their positions as low-income net food-importing countries.
Although global food prices had fallen somewhat by the end of 2022, they remained well above pre-pandemic levels. Domestic food prices, by contrast, experienced an increase but have yet to decline. In fact, food prices increased in all GRFC countries/ territories in 2022, with food inflation being over 10 percent in 38 out of the 58 countries/territories with food crises by the end of the year.
Their governments’ abilities to mitigate risks and insulate citizens from food price inflation through policy measures, such as stimulus payments and subsidies, was limited given their over-extended public budgets after the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly all of the countries whose currencies lost value at an abnormally fast rate in 2022 were GRFC countries/territories.
Economic shocks are projected to be the main driver of acute food insecurity in 22 of these countries/territories as national economic resilience has been severely undermined by a slow recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. Persisting high food prices coupled with high debt levels in some countries amid high interest rates and currency depreciation are expected to further erode households’ food access and constrain the fiscal capacity of governments to deliver assistance.
As of March 2023, food prices were at exceptionally high levels in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Myanmar, Namibia, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Forecast to return in June 2023, the El Nino phenomenon is likely to result in dry weather conditions in key cropping areas of Central America, Southern Africa and Far East Asia, while excessive rainfall and possible flooding is foreseen in Near East Asia and East Africa.
Conflicts, national and global economic shocks and weather extremes continue to be increasingly intertwined, feeding into one another and creating spiralling negative effects on acute food insecurity and nutrition. And there is no indication that these drivers will ease in 2023: climate change is expected to drive further weather extremes, the global and national economies face a grim outlook, while conflicts and insecurity are likely to persist.
The magnitude of people facing IPC/CH Phase 3 or above is daunting, but it is that very scale that drives urgency. Earlier intervention can reduce food gaps and protect assets and livelihoods at a lower cost than late humanitarian response.
Yet too often the international community waits for a Famine (IPC/CH Phase 5) classification before mobilizing additional funding. By this stage, lives and futures have already been lost, livelihoods have collapsed, and social networks disrupted with deleterious impacts on the lives of an unborn generation.
Populations in IPC/CH Phase 3 are already unable to meet their minimum food needs or are compelled to protect food consumption by engaging in coping strategies that will harm their future ability to access food and sustain their livelihoods. In IPC/CH Phase 4, households face large food gaps, which are either reflected in high acute malnutrition levels and excess mortality. Urgent action is needed for households in IPC/CH Phase 3 and 4 to ensure immediate wellbeing, to support their ability to sustain themselves.
* The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) provides a common scale for classifying the severity and magnitude of food insecurity and acute malnutrition. The classification is based on a convergence of available data and evidence, including indicators related to food consumption, livelihoods, malnutrition, and mortality. It is the internationally recognised standard measurement.
Apr. 2023
WFP chief appeals for greater funding support to address rising hunger
The World Food Program needs $23 billion to feed millions facing hunger and help avert starvation, destabilization of countries and mass migration, outgoing Executive Director David Beasley warned last week. China, oil-rich countries in the Middle East and billionaires whose wealth climbed amid the pandemic must all increase their support for the WFP as global hunger climbs and the Ukraine war distracts donors from other crises, Beasley says.
In an interview Mr. Beasley said he’s “extremely worried” that WFP won’t raise about $23 billion it needs this year to help people in desperate need of support. “Right at this stage, I’ll be surprised if we get 40% of it, quite frankly,” he said.
Last year, the World Food Program raised $14.2 billion from donors, to help 128 million people in more than 120 countries and territories.
David Beasley said he was able to convince the United States last year to increase its funding and Germany to raise its contribution, but he doesn’t think they’ll do it again this year. Other countries need to step up now, he said, starting with China, the world’s second-largest economy which gave WFP just $11 million last year.
Beasley applauded China for its success in substantially reducing hunger and poverty at home, but said China needs “to engage in the multilateral world” and be willing to provide help that is critical. “We need their help, particularly in poorer countries including in Africa".
With high oil prices Gulf countries can also do more, especially Muslim nations that have relations with countries in east Africa, the Sahara and elsewhere in the Middle East, he said, calling on them to increase their contributions.
Mr. Beasley said the wealthiest billionaires made unprecedented profits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and “it’s not too much to ask multibillionaires to step up and help in the crisis”.
“The world has to understand that the next 12 to 18 months is critical, and if we back off the funding, you will have mass migration, and you will have destabilization nations and that will all be on top of starvation among children and people around the world,” he warned.
Beasley said WFP was just forced to cut rations by 50% to 4 million people in Afghanistan, and “these are people who are knocking on famine’s door now.”
“We don’t have enough money just to reach the most vulnerable people now,” he said. “So we are in a crisis right now, where we literally could have hell on earth if we’re not very careful.”
The food crisis “is going to get worse,” he added. Climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine are all to blame, he said.
Among the 350 million people the United Nations classifies as suffering from acute food insecurity — 50 million people are “knocking on famine’s door,” Beasley said.
“That 50 million has got to get food, or otherwise they clearly will die,” he said.
Beasley said he’s been telling leaders in the West and Europe that while they’re focusing everything on Ukraine and Russia, “you better well not forget about what’s south and southeast of you because I can assure you it is coming your way if you don’t pay attention and get on top of it.”
The WFP executive director said leaders have to prioritize the humanitarian needs that are going to have the greatest impact on stability in societies around the world.
Beasley said “it’s hard not to get a little depressed at times by the overwhelming needs” but seeing little girls and boys smiling in the midst of war and suffering from hunger “inspires you not to give up,” he said.
With $400 trillion worth of wealth on the planet, he said, there’s no reason for any child to die of starvation.
* BBC interview with David Beasley:
Mar. 2023
Arif Husain, Chief Economist and Director of Research at the World Food Program:
“A year into the war in Ukraine, international prices of food, fuel and fertilizer remain way too expensive for hundreds of millions of people worldwide”.
Prices today compared to right before COVID in 2020 (Source IMF):
Food Price Index: +32% more expensive today than right before COVID in 2020; Fertilizer Index: +207% more expensive; Crude Oil (Petroleum) Price Index: +31% more expensive; Natural Gas Price Index: +233% more expensive; Maize: +81% more expensive; Rice: +21% more expensive; Wheat: +94% more expensive, Sunflower: +54% more expensive; U.S. Dollar Index: +5% more expensive
Feb. 2023
In a joint Statement, the Heads of the World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, and World Trade Organization described the Global Food and Nutrition Security Crisis.
"Globally, poverty and food insecurity are both on the rise. Supply chain disruptions, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, financial tightening through rising interest rates and the Russia’s war in Ukraine have caused an unprecedented shock to the global food system, with the most vulnerable hit the hardest.
Food inflation remains high in the world, with dozens of countries experiencing double digit inflation. According to WFP, 349 million people across 79 countries are acutely food insecure.
The prevalence of undernourishment is also on the rise, following three years of deterioration. This situation is expected to worsen, with global food supplies projected to drop to a three-year low in 2022/2023. The need is especially dire in 24 countries that FAO and WFP have identified as hunger hotspots, of which 16 are in Africa.
Fertilizer affordability as defined by the ratio between food prices and fertilizer prices is also the lowest since the 2007/2008 food crisis, which is leading to lower food production and impacting smallholder farmers the hardest, worsening the already high local food prices. For example, the reduction in 2022 of the production of rice, for which Africa is the largest importer in the world, coupled with prospects of lower stocks, is of grave concern".
18 Feb. 2023 (OCHA)
With a record-high number of people needing humanitarian aid around the world, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres today announced the allocation of US$250 million from the United Nations global emergency fund to help extremely vulnerable people in some of the most forgotten crises and stave off impending famine conditions.
“So often, longstanding development issues can combine with climate chaos, economic shocks and violent conflicts, spinning into a whirlwind of humanitarian disaster,” said the Secretary-General. “Around the world today, 339 million people are in need of humanitarian aid.”
In 2022, the UN and its humanitarian partners reached nearly 160 million people, but the surge in humanitarian needs is fast outpacing the ability to respond. This year, to meet the most basic needs of 240 million people, nearly $54 billion is required, but it is anticipated that less than half that amount will be raised.
The newly announced allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) will offer immediate short term assistance to help people in 19 countries. This includes 8 countries – Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen – that are home to more than 20 million people right now just one step away from famine.
In addition, the funds will bolster the humanitarian response in underfunded crises – in Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kenya, Lebanon, Madagascar, Pakistan and Sudan – to combat the immediate risk of food insecurity and assist in addressing the impacts of climate change and protracted crises.
“This money will enable urgent action to address crises, including famines,” said the Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths.
While the immediate funding will assist humanitarian operations in 19 emergency situations, the UN has stressed the need for earlier and larger amounts of funding, and is appealing to donors to provide the resources to reach people in urgent humanitarian need.
Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths said:
"The humanitarian landscape before us is a rough and rugged one. Needs are spiralling across the world. Humanitarian crises are piling on top of each other, and desperate people are looking to us in their hour of need.
The world is facing the largest food crisis in modern history, and famine is knocking on many doors. Human rights, especially women’s rights, are under vicious attack in many places, punishing entire societies.
Tensions are high where injustice has been left to fester for decades. In Ukraine, a brutal war is about to enter its second year.
And today marks two weeks since the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria claimed tens of thousands of lives and caused indescribable destruction.
Allow me to share some of the global numbers we have. More than 350 million people around the world currently need urgent humanitarian assistance. We need almost US$54 billion to meet the basic needs of the worst affected among them. But experience shows that we can expect to raise barely half of that amount.
Each year, our count of people in need, and dollars to raise, takes another jump. The trend is clear, and there are three main reasons for this. First, old wars don’t end as new ones start. Conflicts linger on and become protracted.
Second, the climate emergency is hitting the most vulnerable people worst. We’re in a constant race to mitigate its impact.
Third, economic collapse – fuelled first by the shock of COVID-19, then by the war in Ukraine – is pushing millions of people to the brink.
And while these megacrises mount, the resources needed to respond to them are not keeping up.
As humanitarians, our solidarity will always be with the people we serve. Our role is to listen to the local communities and organizations who are the first responders, and often the only responders, on the front lines.
Our mandate and mantra is “We don’t give up.” But to discharge this mandate, we need help.
To end the wars and conflicts we know and to stop new ones breaking out, we urgently need a surge in diplomatic efforts. I thank all those pushing for peace at all levels.
We also need to address climate change head on, because every flood, heat wave, drought or super storm leaves a humanitarian crisis in its wake.
Decisive action to reduce emissions is long overdue. We must shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy at greater speed.
Right now, a doubling of financing for climate adaptation is required, and we must ensure that the money flows to the right places.
It is unacceptable that the most vulnerable countries – those contributing the least to climate change – receive almost no climate money. This must be reversed.
It will come as no surprise that we need more resources to save lives today. Globally, more than 222 million people don’t know when or even if they’ll eat another meal. Forty-five million people are already on the brink of starvation. Most of them are women and children. These are simply heart-breaking statistics.
Humanitarian action cannot stand alone. We need all hands on deck, working together, with the political will, to stop conflicts, address the climate emergency, fight famines, and be ready for the next emergencies that inevitably lurk around the corner.
Feb. 2023
NGOs Call for Urgent Reforms to Famine Prevention
The International Rescue Committee, World Vision International, and Action Against Hunger are calling for urgent reforms to the international community’s response to famine prevention as at least one million people currently face famine conditions.
Global hunger has reached its highest levels in modern history, in large part due to the lingering effects of COVID-19, recurring climate shocks and conflict in Ukraine that have tipped the scale from crisis to catastrophe in some of the most vulnerable places.
There has been a proliferation of international initiatives to address global food insecurity issues related to climate change, food systems, supply chains, and economic development. But what is missing is a robust safety net that kicks in when these efforts falter and a country is headed towards the worst-case scenario of famine. Efforts on wider food insecurity will come too late for people starvating right now.
Five years ago, the world responded to the threat of ‘four famines,’ mobilizing resources early on to prevent many of the worst outcomes. Despite international commitment to “never again” allow famine, six countries are at the highest risk of famine today: Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, northeast Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Sudan. They include all four countries that were at risk in 2017.
Across these six countries, one million people are facing famine, putting them at imminent risk of starvation if urgent action is not taken.
Tens of millions more are already struggling to get enough to eat, leaving families going hungry and children becoming acutely malnourished. In Somalia, deaths have been occurring for months and famine is now imminent without urgent action.
In the twenty-first century, famines are predictable and preventable. The world has robust data and warning systems to identify when famines are coming and the tools to act quickly to prevent them. What is lacking is the political will and resources to do so.
An immediate priority should be re-energizing the UN high-level task force on preventing famine, which was established by the UN Secretary-General in 2021 for precisely this purpose. The task force should narrow its focus to the countries at highest risk of famine, as identified in WFP and FAO’s Hunger Hotspots as those in the highest alert level.
In these places, humanitarian aid alone is not enough. The task force should expand to include donors, international financial institutions, NGOs and regional bodies and work closely with affected states and communities to ensure collective commitments to famine prevention and response.
Too often, the international community waits for a formal famine declaration to act. But by then, it is too late and deaths are already occurring en masse. Instead, early warnings should become the catalyst for a no regrets approach.
This reformed high-level task force could play a unique role in raising alarm and focusing attention on these crises as soon as the famine risk is identified, leveraging existing data to trigger early responses.
The task force should act as a vital decision making forum to develop action plans for famine prevention across its diverse members, mobilize resources and address barriers to response through collective action.
There is still an immediate window of opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of lives. The international community must act now to alter the trajectory of these crises and ensure 2023 is not the year of multiple famines.
Jan. 2023
Across the globe, children are facing a historic confluence of crises. (UNICEF)
Through the Humanitarian Action for Children appeal 2023, UNICEF is appealing for sufficient funding support to reach more than 110 million children in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
Today, there are more children in need of humanitarian assistance than at any other time since the Second World War. Across the globe, children are facing a historic confluence of crises – from conflict and displacement to infectious disease outbreaks and soaring rates of malnutrition.
More than 400 million children live in areas under conflict; an estimated 1 billion children – nearly half the world’s children – live in countries at extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change; at least 36.5 million children have been displaced from their homes; and 8 million children under age 5 across 15 crisis-hit countries are at risk of death from severe wasting.
In conflict and disaster, children suffer first and suffer most. From protracted conflicts to disease outbreaks to natural disasters, children across the globe face an uncertain future.
But the situation is far from hopeless. We know how to reach children at greatest risk and in greatest need. Decisive and timely humanitarian action can save children’s lives, while also sowing the seeds of future development.
In an increasingly volatile world with more children in need than ever before, it is critical that UNICEF and partners receive adequate funding support to save lives.
“Today, there are more children in need of humanitarian assistance than at any other time in recent history,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Across the globe, they are facing a deadly mix of crises, from conflict and displacement to disease outbreaks and soaring rates of malnutrition. Meanwhile, climate change is making these crises worse and unleashing new ones. It is critical that we have the right support in place to reach children with decisive and timely humanitarian action.”
This year began with an estimated 274 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Throughout the year, these needs grew considerably, largely due to conflict, including the war in Ukraine; to rising food insecurity; to threats of famine brought about by climate-related and other factors; and to the devastating floods in Pakistan. Around the world, a resurgence of disease outbreaks including cholera and measles bring an additional danger to children in emergencies.
The lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and global economic disruption and instability, including inflation and the rising cost of food and fuel, have had a devastating impact on the lives and wellbeing of millions of the world’s most vulnerable children.
Climate change is also worsening the scale and intensity of emergencies. The last 10 years were the hottest on record and the number of climate-related disasters has tripled in the last 30 years. Today, over 400 million children live in areas of high or extremely high-water vulnerability.
At the same time, children are crossing borders in record numbers, with their families or separated from them, or unaccompanied. Altogether, nearly 37 million children worldwide are displaced due to cascading crises, a level of displaced children not seen since the Second World War.
“The devastating impacts of climate change are an ever-present threat to children,” said Russell. “Which is why we are prioritizing climate adaptation and resilience building as part of our humanitarian response. This will help us to reach children living through today’s crises, while also helping them and their communities prepare for those yet to come.”
Putting national and local organizations at the centre of humanitarian operations is a key strategy in UNICEF’s humanitarian response. Key results in 2022 were made possible by UNICEF’s partnerships, including with humanitarian country teams, UN agencies, civil society and non-governmental organizations, national and local responders and resource partners.
As part of its Humanitarian Action for Children, which sets out the agency’s 2023 appeal, UNICEF plans to reach: 8.2 million children with treatment for severe acute malnutrition. 28 million children with measles vaccinations. 63.7 million people with access to safe water for drinking and domestic needs. 25.7 million children with formal or non-formal education, including early learning.
UNICEF’s works to protect and promote diets, services and practices that prevent, detect and treat child wasting. UNICEF aims to ensure that no child dies from wasting.
UNICEF is accelerating progress on two interrelated fronts simultaneously: (1) reduce the number of children suffering from the more severe forms of wasting; (2) increase the number of children with severe forms of wasting who access treatment.
Public health emergencies: The annual number of outbreaks reported to the World Health Organization has increased more than threefold since 1980. UNICEF is committed to addressing public health emergencies not only through emergency coordination and leadership, responding to the health threat, but also by working to ensure the continuity of essential services.
Blistering heat waves. A global hunger crisis. Deadly conflicts. Displacement. These crises are set to intensify as climate change impacts the frequency, intensity, and duration of emergencies, deepening inequities across the globe, and driving new waves of conflict, displacement, and disease.
UNICEF is also working on strengthening the resilience of communities and health infrastructure to withstand climate hazards, with the aim of better linking its humanitarian response to longer-term community resilience and climate adaptation.
But while the needs of children and families have never been greater, the humanitarian system is struggling to respond to the sheer scale of these crises. From historic floods in Pakistan, to drought across large swathes of Africa – particularly the Horn of Africa – to record-breaking temperatures and a nutrition crisis, climate shocks are driving increased humanitarian needs.
From Afghanistan to Somalia, from Ukraine to Yemen – UNICEF is on the ground in countries around the world, providing children with life-saving services during humanitarian emergencies. We are working to strengthen the systems that children rely on – like health care, protection, water and sanitation – and to make those systems more resilient to climate shocks and other crises.
With humanitarian needs at an unprecedented high, UNICEF is calling on partners to increase support to life-saving humanitarian responses for children.
Dec. 2022
One person in 23 will need humanitarian assistance in 2023. (UN News)
UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the Global Humanitarian Overview 2023:
"2022 has been a year of extremes. Conflict brought misery to millions of people. The war in Ukraine accelerated the global food and energy crises. Diseases from cholera to COVID-19 claimed lives and disrupted economies. And the climate crisis is causing deadly drought and unprecedented floods.
Global hunger reached record levels. As we end the year, famine looms in five separate places around the world. And in every crisis, women and girls are last to eat and first to suffer poverty and hunger.
The United Nations and our humanitarian partners have helped to support and protect 157 million people around the world. We listened to people and communities and worked to tailor our programmes to meet their needs. We provided $2 billion in cash assistance to people in crisis situations to save lives.
Humanitarian demands are projected to continue increasing next year. In 2023, we forecast some 339 million people will need humanitarian aid and protection — an increase of 65 million since the beginning of 2022.
The 2023 Global Humanitarian Overview calls for life-saving support to 230 million of the most vulnerable people. Funding these lifesaving operations is a source of hope for millions of people in desperate need".
“Humanitarian needs are shockingly high, as this year’s extreme events are spilling into 2023,” said the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths.
“Lethal droughts and floods are wreaking havoc in communities from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa. The war in Ukraine has turned a part of Europe into a battlefield. More than 100 million people are now displaced worldwide. And all of this on top of the devastation left by the pandemic among the world’s poorest.
“For people on the brink, this appeal is a lifeline. For the international community, it is a strategy to make good on the pledge to leave no one behind.”
The 2023 Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO), launched today by the UN in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations and other humanitarian partners, paints a stark picture.
At least 222 million people in 53 countries will face acute food insecurity by the end of 2022. Forty-five million people in 37 countries risk starvation.
The response plans in the GHO detail how aid agencies working together around specific types of aid – including shelter, food, maternal health, child nutrition and protection – can save and support the lives of a combined 230 million people worldwide.
The GHO is a comprehensive and evidence-based assessment of global humanitarian needs. It provides a snapshot of current and future trends in humanitarian action for large-scale resource mobilization efforts".
Joyce Msuya, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator:
"A global pandemic, an escalating climate crisis, a war in Europe, a global cost of living crisis, extreme levels of poverty.
We are in the middle of the largest global food crisis in modern history, a crisis driven by conflict, climactic shock and the looming threat of global recession. As I speak, close to 1 million people are in famine-like conditions.
More people have been forced from their homes than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Today’s wars are more intense and longer lasting than ever. The war in Syria will have soon dragged on for 12 years. The conflict in Yemen nine.
Women and children are bearing the brunt of these forever wars as hospitals, homes and schools are turned into death traps by warring sides who violate the rules of war every single day.
It is also unsurprising that the world’s humanitarian system is now at breaking point, for every year, as needs rise to record levels, the funding gap grows.
It is a deep sadness that, as of today, our 2022 appeal is less than half funded. And yet, despite this huge shortfall, we’ve provided assistance to 157 million people.
Thanks to the grit and determination of our NGO partners, frontline organizations and local communities, we’ve reached displaced people in 46 countries. And we’ve provided emergency healthcare to more than 40 million people in the first half of the year alone.
This is what we can do with less than half of what we need. This is what we can do despite the threat to aid workers, and despite the access challenges thrown up by war, violence and political chaos.
But with proper funding, we could have more than doubled our impact, reaching millions more men, women and children whose lives have been devastated by disaster. Today, we are appealing for funds to help 230 million people in 68 countries. To restore hope for millions of people who simply want a chance to survive.
This is our SOS call for help. Help for the millions of men, women and children whose lives have been shattered by hunger, conflict, disease, and poverty.
Help which will allow committed frontline workers to provide millions with food, education, vaccines, protection, and shelter.
Help which can only come from countries, corporates and individuals who are fortunate enough to be living in peace, safety and prosperity.
If this SOS is heard, then we will have the power not just to alleviate suffering in the short-term but to ensure millions of the world’s most vulnerable people can secure the right to a life of dignity, away from a world of permanent crisis".
Dec. 2022
One person in 23 will need humanitarian assistance in 2023. (Concern Worldwide)
The last year has been devastating for vulnerable and poorer communities around the world with a 24% increase in the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance.
One person in every 23, a total of 339 million people globally, will require some form of assistance in 2023.
The Irish development and humanitarian organisation, Concern Worldwide, is working in eight of the 10 worst affected countries: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine.
“A number of factors have contributed to the rise in humanitarian needs; the climate crisis, armed conflict, the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, all compounded by the impacts of the conflict in Ukraine on the global economy which has caused inflation and unstable food prices,” said Carol Morgan, International Programmes Director with Concern.
“It’s people living in the world’s poorest countries that are hit hardest. We see this in the communities Concern works in, they are struggling to afford even the most of basic necessities, and many of their coping mechanisms are exhausted. The world must redouble its efforts to support communities living in extreme poverty.”
The harrowing statistics are contained in the United Nations’ Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO). The GHO is an annual assessment of humanitarian needs and the resources required to address them based on data from international organisations and global, national, and local NGOs.
It says US$51.5 billion is needed to fund the most urgent needs of 230 million people in 68 countries in 2023, 25% more than this time last year. Costs for humanitarian responses has increased substantially, with higher operational costs and commodity prices putting further pressure on limited budgets.
Although the 2022 GHO funding appeal received the highest level of funding ever, it is expected it will be only half-funded by the end of the year. The gap between requirements and funding is greater than ever and this gap has seen millions of people affected by climate crisis and conflict not getting the support they needed.
In Afghanistan, Concern has scaled up operations to reach communities facing extreme hunger and to support Afghan partners responding to several serious earthquakes. Through our emergency and development projects, we have reached 216,019 people in 2022. However, in what is one of the most complex emergency settings in the world, millions of people across the country are on the verge of famine. Concern staff members have witnessed parents at the end of their tether selling their children out of sheer desperation, just to put food on the table. A lack of funding has meant that millions of food insecure people did not get support ahead of the lean season.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the majority (73%) of the population live below the US$1.90 poverty line, and DRC is ranked 176 out of 189 countries on the 2019 Human Development Index. The humanitarian context in 2022 has continued to deteriorate due to armed conflict and natural disasters with over 260,000 people being displaced since March this year. Concern has provided cash payments to displaced households to purchase food and essential supplies for their families.
Next year’s GHO appeal will set a new record for the highest ever requirements, demonstrating how conflict, climate change, COVID-19, and heightened costs are pushing more and more people into humanitarian emergency.
Dec. 2022
Global humanitarian needs highest on record. (Oxfam)
Today’s UN 2023 Global Humanitarian Outlook report, reveals that 339 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid - the highest caseload in history - Oxfam Global Humanitarian Director, Marta Valdes Garcia: 
“One in every 23 people around the world –the equivalent of nearly half of the entire population of Europe– is now in urgent need of humanitarian aid. This news must be an immediate wake-up call.
“The humanitarian needs are outstripping the aid system’s ability to respond. We have to rethink not only how we try to meet those needs, but what the failures are of global systems that are leading to such rapidly growing inequality in the first place. 
“Humanitarian aid is flatlining but, again, we’re seeing the UN appealing for even more resources, from the same pool of donors, to help even more desperate people trying to cope in crisis. Again, those most in need will receive only a token of what they are asking for. 
“The global humanitarian system is already overwhelmed. We know that people are being made homeless, hungry and sick by climate change, conflict, poverty and inequality, and economic failures – but these are not isolated issues, they’re the same endemic crisis.
“We must not wait any longer. We need a radical overhaul of how our global systems work, putting the dignity and rights of people in crisis first.
“We must both immediately respond to this unprecedented humanitarian need and find ways to change a runaway global financial system where the few are benefitting at the cost of the many. How can we have hundreds of new food and energy billionaires yet we cannot fund basic humanitarian needs to stop millions of people from starving?
“Donors must immediately meet the UN global humanitarian appeal to help save lives now. Funding to prevent disasters should have no strings attached; and decisions and actions must be led by local communities themselves.
“National governments must also tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality that worsens the blow of disasters on those already suffering. One key way this can be done is by injecting resources into global public goods, from climate adaptation to social protection. There is already much insight into what a new global system could be – at heart, by tackling global inequality, climate change and conflict, and focusing on local leadership. What is needed is the political courage to act.”
* The oil and gas industry realise $2.8 billion per day in profits each year. Less than 18 days of those profits would cover the entire $48.82 billion UN humanitarian appeal for 2022.

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