People's Stories Wellbeing

Deteriorating hunger situation an urgent crisis for millions caught in conflict
by International Committee of the Red Cross
12 July 2022
Geneva (ICRC) – Hundreds of millions of people are at risk of severe hunger in the coming months as extreme poverty, inequality and food insecurity rise, particularly in parts of Africa and the Middle East, following shocks in the food, energy and finance systems.
The conflict in Ukraine has contributed to a sharp increase in fuel, fertilizer and food prices, squeezing household budgets and forcing families to make impossible choices every day. Despite repeated calls from humanitarian actors, there is still no large-scale solution to alleviate the pressure the conflict in Ukraine is creating on populations highly dependent on grain exports from Russia and Ukraine.
“We face an urgent and rapidly deteriorating global food security situation, especially in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Armed conflict, political instability, climate shocks and the secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have weakened capacities to withstand and recover from shocks. The knock-on-effects of the armed conflict in Ukraine have made an already critical situation even worse,” said Robert Mardini, the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The situation is urgent, and the window of time left to act is narrowing. Without concerted and collaborative efforts, this risks becoming an irreversible humanitarian crisis with an unimaginable human cost.
Nowhere are the consequences felt more than in countries already facing humanitarian crises and torn apart by decades of warfare or instability – including those where the ICRC has some of its largest operations, such as Syria, Yemen, Mali, Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Sadly, we can expect to see more images of underfed children in the coming weeks, as childrenare disproportionately affected by food crises. In Somalia, for example, the number of children under the age of five suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition with medical complications admitted to ICRC-run Stabilization Centers has increased by almost 50% compared to the same period last year. Rising food prices push many families to take their children out of school as they can no longer afford the fees.
Cereal prices in Africa have surged because of the slump in exports from Ukraine, sharpening the impact of conflict and climate change. Russia and Ukraine together constitute 25% of the world production of wheat and grains, while around 85% of Africa’s wheat supplies are imported. Somalia, for example, gets more than 90 percent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine.
The spike in global prices has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable to shocks, especially subsistence farmers and people in conflict-affected areas, where social protection is weak. These same communities have seen millions of heads of livestock die this year from drought. In Yemen, after years of civil war, more than 50%of the population – more than 16 million people – is acutely food insecure.
Food insecurity is a complex challenge, but there are meaningful steps that can be taken. The ICRC has three main calls to action:
First, in conflict, parties to the fighting have the primary responsibility to ensure the basic needs of civilians in areas under their control are met. They must protect crops, livestock, water structures and health facilities indispensable to the survival of the population. This includes facilitating rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access.
Second, funding to address the food crisis must be increased immediately to save lives. However, longer-term action to manage risks and strengthen resilience is also critical to prepare for the next crisis. We must ensure assistance reaches those affected by conflict and support climate-smart agriculture and pastoralist practices
Third, meeting the scale of needs in the short, medium and long-term calls for leveraging the capacities of all actors, including humanitarian and development agencies, financial institutions, and local and regional authorities.
The generosity from donors and partners of the ICRC concerning Ukraine has been extremely welcome. Worryingly, we are seeing an overall decline in funding to cover our global budget. Important areas of our work around the globe are currently severely underfunded, threatening our ability to help those suffering the effects of conflict and violence, including food assistance programs.
We remind states that sanctions imposed in the context of conflict can have a negative impact on the ability of humanitarian actors to operate. We urge states to secure effective humanitarian carve-outs in the design and implementation of such sanctions.
“We remain committed to respond to these emergencies, but humanitarians alone are not able to address them. We – the global community -- need to collectively redouble our efforts through tailored action. The onus is on all of us. Too many lives, and too much suffering, is at stake,” said Mr Mardini.
Facts about the food crisis that has the ICRC worried:
An estimated 346 million people in Africa are facing severe food insecurity, according to FAO. Those are staggering numbers, which mean that a quarter of the continent’s population does not have enough to eat.
Nearly 10 million people in Sudan and 7 million people in South Sudan are highly food insecure.
Even before the escalation of the armed conflict in Ukraine, 90% of the Syrian population lived in poverty, two-thirds were dependent on humanitarian aid, and 55% were food insecure.
Countries in the Sahel are seeing one of the most severe droughts in decades. Niger and Mauritania have produced 40% less food than the five-year average.
In Afghanistan, the price for wheat flour is up 47% over compared with a year ago, while cooking oil is up 37%. DAP fertilizer is up 91% and the price of diesel is up 93%. Afghanistan gets its largest percentage of wheat imports from neighboring Kazakhstan, which has imposed export restrictions due to the conflict in Ukraine.
June 2022
Nothing to eat: Food crisis is soaring across Africa
A changing climate, increases in conflict and unproductive farming have compounded the food crisis problem in Africa, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called for immediate and long-term interventions.
An estimated 346 million people in Africa are affected by the food crisis, according to recent reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the African Union (AU).
"There is not enough food or water. You can run away from the fighting, but you can't escape from the drought," says Deeko Adan Warsame, the chair of the women's council of Guriel, northern Somalia.
Ms Warsame's words sum up the alarming hunger situation in Africa that risks intensifying in the coming months. Somalia has been hit particularly hard. Livestock, a key livelihood in the Horn of Africa, is threatened by the persistent drought. It exacerbated unprecedented animal losses resulting from shortages of pasture and water.
An estimated 1.5 million livestock perished, and the remaining animals have become emaciated and weak. Crop production is between 58 per cent to 70 per cent below average across the region.
And what is unfolding in Somalia repeats itself in other countries in the Horn of Africa and as far as the Sahel belt.
Rain-fed agriculture in the Horn of Africa region has failed almost systematically in recent years. Many farmers are left with no choice but to abandon their fields and move to major cities, searching for alternative livelihoods.
Malnutrition rates are rising due to deteriorating purchasing power and the limited access to a healthy diet and healthcare. These high malnutrition rates are also being witnessed in Kenya and the Central African Republic.
Largely unnoticed disaster
"This is a disaster going largely unnoticed. Millions of families are going hungry, and children are dying because of malnutrition," says Dominik Stillhart, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross's global operations.
The food crisis spans across the continent, from Mauritania and Burkina Faso in the west to Somalia and Ethiopia in the east. In response, the ICRC will ramp up operations in ten countries in close coordination with other components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to support an additional 2.8 million people.
"We are scaling up our operations in countries like Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and many others to try and help as many people as possible, but the number of people going without food and water is staggering," adds Mr Stillhart.
In Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some 27 million people, 25 per cent of the DRC's population, face acute food insecurity conditions.
In Central and West Sahel, conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on markets have adversely affected populations. Conflict in the region has disrupted the economy and forced the displacement of more than seven million people. Burkina Faso alone is experiencing the fastest growth in displaced people, with an almost three-fold increase compared to the last 12 months.
In the Sahel, specifically in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso the situation is particularly worrying as a combination of food crisis and conflict pushes populations to the brink. Violence is disrupting every aspect of the socio-economic balance that has existed for decades and is further fueling a food and water crisis.
It is estimated that 10.5 million people are facing malnutrition in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Mauritania. Over 1.2 million people are projected to be in stage four of the food insecurity index during the upcoming lean season (the period between harvests).
"What hurts me today of course is hunger but also, it's the look of my children who don't understand that there are days when I come home and I don't have anything in my hands," says a widowed mother of six from Burkina Faso. She was speaking to ICRC officials.
Conflict, climatic shocks like the droughts in East Africa and poor cumulative rainfalls in West Africa, a dramatic rise in displaced people, and surging food and fuel prices have contributed to the overwhelming needs in the region. Many of the affected countries are still reeling from the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, complicating matters further.
Additional challenges include limited access to vulnerable populations due to insecurity and the fighting in Russia and Ukraine. Together, the two countries constitute a quarter of the world production of wheat and grains.
Some of the countries worst affected by the current food insecurity crisis are those most reliant on wheat from Russia and Ukraine, including Somalia (over 90 per cent dependent), Democratic Republic of Congo (over 80 per cent dependent) and Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Sudan (all between approximately 20-45 per cent dependent).
Need for concerted efforts
"We need more people on board with this crisis. The bulk of the ICRC's work is helping people stay alive, but it's not nearly enough. A crisis of this scale needs a concerted effort from governments, humanitarian partners, and donors to focus on mid and long-term support to help those affected get back on their feet. This needs to be the priority," says Mr Stillhart.
According to Zakaria Maiga, ICRC's food insecurity crisis advisor and former operations coordinator for the Sahel, the issue of food insecurity is not new.
The difference this time is "the intensity of the situation: driven by the rapid pace of climate change and numerous complexities that not seen in the past, such as the loss of basic services; poverty, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the deterioration of security with the rise of inter communal violence linked to water scarcity and non-state armed conflict, driven by political instability and cultural tensions".
Patrick Youssef, the ICRC's regional director for Africa, agrees with Mr Maiga.
Every year we communicate and respond, but this year is something different. We've not seen something like this in Somalia for 40 years. Floods have ravaged the interior of Mali and brought cereal production down to 20 per cent of normal levels – so there are huge losses.
The ICRC has been working for decades to address the effects of food insecurity in Africa, moving beyond the 'symptoms' to address underlying causes requires closer partnership and stronger advocacy with development partners. It will continue to concentrate its activities in remote areas that are affected by hostilities and that are difficult to reach or inaccessible for other organizations because of security and access constraints.
Some of the specific activities the ICRC will conduct are: step up distributions of food assistance – including through vouchers or cash, increase provisions of therapeutic food for treating malnourished children and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, and increase distributions of seed, farming tools and equipment, livestock and/or fodder, or cash/vouchers for buying these, to farming and herding households.
The ICRC is carrying out assistance efforts, together with other components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, across Africa - Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, the DRC, Sudan, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania – where the food security crisis is felt the most. http://reliefwe/burkina-faso/un-and-ngo-partners-raise-alarm-over-30-million-sahelians-most-whom-are-women-and-children-require-life-saving-assistance-and-protection-increase-almost-two-million-2021-enar

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Millions failing to access social protection entitlements
by Olivier De Schutter
Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
June 2022
Millions of people, including some of the world’s most marginalized groups, are unable to benefit from the very systems that have been set up to protect them, said a new report published today by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
“While considerable progress has been made in recent decades to expand social protection systems, shockingly little attention has been paid to the countless individuals that are falling through the cracks of these schemes,” the independent expert, Olivier De Schutter, said in his report to the UN Human Rights Council’s 50th Session.
“By failing to address why people cannot access the benefits they are entitled to, governments risk perpetuating the very poverty and inequalities these systems are designed to wipe out,” De Schutter said.
The report details the phenomenon of ‘non-take-up’, whereby people cannot – or "choose" not to – claim much-needed benefits such as income support or housing allowance. Estimates of non-take-up remain limited. In regions where figures do exist however, rates of non-take-up appear exceedingly high: they sit at above 40% for most of the benefits considered across the EU, for instance.
Governments around the world ramped up social protection measures to mitigate the social and economic impacts of COVID-19. However, many individuals who should be protected face obstacles in claiming the benefits they are entitled to in principle.
“Unclaimed benefits are not a cost that society avoids. They are the result of costly design flaws in social protection systems and a missed opportunity to build more inclusive, resilient and prosperous economies,” De Schutter said. “A social protection system that misses out swathes of its intended recipients is akin to a leaking watering can: it’s not only a huge waste of resources, but also leaves many gasping for sustenance.”
The report draws on input from experts, government agencies and civil society organizations, obtained through a survey that brought responses from 36 countries. It identifies a lack of awareness of available benefits, as well as complex, often humiliating processes that discourage individuals from applying as among the chief reasons why social security remains inaccessible to millions around the world.
De Schutter also pointed out that eligible individuals are missed by government databases such as social registries and therefore receive no support, while certain groups such as undocumented migrants cannot meet the conditions required to access the support they so desperately need.
“A permanent address, identification documents, or registration as a worker are all conditions of many social protection schemes, yet these are out of reach for the estimated one billion people lacking a legal identity, or the 1.6 billion men and women struggling as informal workers,” he added.
The report suggests simplifying application procedures and strengthening in-person public services as ways to address gaps in coverage. It urges governments to improve monitoring of non-take-up and deliver targeted outreach strategies, with the participation of people in poverty.
“Governments have a duty not just to provide social protection on paper, but to ensure individuals are aware of – and can access – the benefits to which they are entitled,” De Schutter said. “Marginalised groups should not suffer because of deficiencies in systems set up to support them. Governments must pay this underreported, yet urgent challenge the attention it deserves.”

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