People's Stories Wellbeing

Urgent humanitarian action is essential in 18 hunger hotspots
by Kyung-nan Park
Director of Emergencies, World Food Programme
Nov. 2023
The latest Hunger Hotspots report provides a telling reminder of critical humanitarian emergencies that risk falling under the radar while the world’s attention is on the conflict in Israel and Palestine.
In addition to Palestine – now added to the countries of highest concern – other countries highlighted at greatest risk of a serious deterioration in food security and possible starvation are Burkina Faso, Mali, South Sudan and the Sudan.
In total, urgent humanitarian action is essential in 18 hunger hotspots – comprising 22 countries or territories – according to the report jointly issued by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
“The risks identified in these countries of concern are alarming, revealing the sobering truth about what will happen if we don't act quickly to prevent further loss of life,” said Kyung-nan Park, Director of Emergencies for WFP. “Now more than ever, both emergency responses and preparedness are critical to prevent these deteriorations in food security."
The report warns that acute food insecurity is highly likely to worsen in Palestine during the outlook period of Novermber 2023 to April 2024, due to the sharp escalation in conflict. Among its primary recommendations is endorsement of a plea from the United Nations Secretary-General for a ceasefire, and access to facilitate aid delivery to the Gaza Strip.
The conflict in Palestine reinforces a warning – also highlighted in the previous report published in May – that the trend of increased civilian targeting across different conflicts, and the growing number of actors using such tactics, is expected to continue throughout 2023.
Conflict is one of the main drivers of hunger globally. Instability and violence continue to surge in the Sahel region, from coups in Burkina Faso, Mali and the Niger to the unabating conflict in the Sudan affecting neighbouring countries such as Chad. Between July and September 2023, the region accounted for 22 percent of all global fatalities generated by conflict.
The magnitude and pace of displacement in the Sudan continue at an alarming level, disrupting food production and access, and affecting almost 5.6 million people as of mid‑September 2023. This includes 1.2 million people who have crossed the border into neighbouring countries – a sixfold increase over four months. Recommendations include increasing the provision of life‑saving food and nutrition, and continuing efforts to improve access to people in the Sudan who urgently need humanitarian support.
In South Sudan, insufficient crop production, high staple food prices and lack of resources to support the rising numbers of returnees from the Sudan are all expected to contribute to the persistence of critical food insecurity.
Eight countries are highlighted as being of “very high concern”, namely Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Pakistan, Somalia, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen. These all have a high number of people facing or projected to face critical levels of acute food insecurity.
Different factors, depending on the country – including conflict, climate-related disasters and economic slumps – are expected to intensify life‑threatening conditions in the coming months.
Food insecurity is being compounded by enforced ration cuts in several hunger hotspots of very high concern, due to lack of funding for humanitarian assistance. In Afghanistan for example, a shocking 10 million people have been cut off from life‑saving assistance due to a massive funding shortfall. Other countries affected include Haiti, Palestine, Somalia, the Syrian Arabic Republic and Yemen.
"The current historic humanitarian funding crisis will inevitably impact these looming crises,” said Kyung-nan. “If WFP and humanitarian actors do not receive the funding needed to address them, millions of people could be pushed further into hunger and to the brink of starvation. The cost of inaction is catastrophic, especially for the most vulnerable. It is critical now more than ever for stakeholders to invest in preparedness and resilience programming so that communities are better prepared for these forthcoming climate, conflict, and economic shocks."
While funding lags, humanitarian needs remain high, also driven by factors including the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine on global supply chains and food prices.
Several countries in Central America are expected to be hit hard by the El Niño weather pattern, with drought expected along the Dry Corridor in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as in Malawi – all of which remain hunger hotspots.
"We can't forget about the countries at high risk of experiencing climate-related impacts, as weather extremes and disasters are becoming more and more prevalent and severe,” said Kyung-nan. “This includes the predicted impacts of El Nino, and forecasted hurricanes, floods, and droughts across regions.”
While the impact of these are often unexpected and unpredictable, she added, warnings in the report could be used not only for emergency responses, but also to better prepare through anticipatory action that ultimately saves and lives and also costs."
In addition to emergency response measures, the report emphasizes the importance of such anticipatory action – short-term protective measures before new humanitarian needs materialize. In the Dry Corridor for example, this means providing early-warning messages of looming hurricanes and strategically positioning supplies to enable quick delivery.
In Malawi, it means distributing drought-tolerant seeds ahead of the planting season, along with hermetic grain storage bags. In South Sudan, this means providing forecast‑based cash transfers that help families mitigate the impacts of pending floods, for example if they have to evacuate their homes.
Chad, Djibouti, the Niger and Zimbabwe have all been added to the list of hunger hotspot countries and territories since the May 2023 edition, in addition to Palestine. Varying factors again include conflict, high food prices and climate effects.
Urgent, scaled-up assistance is required across all 18 hunger hotspots to protect livelihoods and increase access to food. This is critical to avert further deterioration of acute food insecurity and malnutrition, despite challenges due to insecurity, bureaucratic hurdles, and access constraints that all hinder safe and rapid assistance.
* UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) - November 2023; Crop Prospects and Food Situation: Intensifying conflicts drive up food insecurity:
The world’s most fragile countries are those most impacted by climate change. (WFP)
The world must rapidly scale up protection for vulnerable people on the frontlines of the climate crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) warns, a week before world leaders meet in Dubai for the next UN Climate Summit, COP28. Last year alone, climate extremes pushed 56.8 million people into acute food insecurity.
Many of the world’s most fragile countries are those most impacted by climate change. The climate crisis doesn’t have to be a hunger crisis, but that’s exactly what’s happening. We have a collective duty to protect and support people living on the edge of this growing disaster and we need to do it now, says the World Food Programme.
WFP is calling for immediate support to scale up climate protection for food-insecure communities whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by global warming, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected settings.
Without decisive and transformational action to protect communities against extreme weather events, the world will see growing hunger, insecurity and displacement.
By strengthening local systems and directing more funding to contexts most at risk, it is possible to better protect local food systems from the worst impacts of climate extremes and avoid prolonged food insecurity.
However, as currently funded, the humanitarian system is struggling to keep up with the pace of escalating crises, pushing more and more people into hunger and weakening already strained food systems.
The world is coming dangerously close to permanently passing the critical 1.5°C degrees limit of global warming. The first half of this year saw the longest-lived tropical cyclone on record in southern Africa and record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires across Europe, North America and Asia. The rains that arrived after the three-year long drought in the Horn of Africa brought flash floods and mass displacement, rather than relief to farmers.
With over 333 million people facing acute food insecurity and a more than 60 percent shortfall in WFP funding this year, it is critical that the world prioritizes protecting people from climate shocks.

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Afghan nationals deported from Pakistan return with nowhere to live and no money for food
by Save the Children, WFP, OHCHR, agencies
23 November 2023
WFP mounts first response for families forced to return to Afghanistan as harsh winter looms.
The United Nations World Food Programme is providing Afghan families who are being forced out of Pakistan with emergency assistance at the border. However, with the harsh winter just around the corner and a significant funding deficit for the operation, assistance to these people hangs in the balance.
Most families crossing the border are arriving hungry, desperate and in need of immediate support. WFP continues to supply all arriving families with fortified biscuits and cash to buy food or other basic necessities. This month, WFP has assisted 250,000 people.
“WFP’s programme in Afghanistan is already critically underfunded and without additional funding, we will not be able to continue our support to these families who are arriving at the border with nothing but a few basics and some bread for their journey,” said WFP Afghanistan Country Director Hsiao-Wei Lee. “These families arrive at the worst of times and face a bleak future in a country where one third of the people do not know where their next meal will come from. Leaving behind their homes and livelihoods, these families return to start over in a country that gives them few economic opportunities and where many struggle to survive.”
Due to a massive funding shortfall this year, WFP was forced to cut ten million people from its emergency food assistance and can now only support one in five of those in need of support to survive.
“The situation is particularly dire as the harsh winter is only weeks away and the country is still reeling from devastating earthquakes, a battered economy and a worsening climate crisis,” said Lee. “We urgently need funding to support one million returnees from Pakistan arriving in Afghanistan and help them get through the winter.”
1 Nov. 2023
Thousands of Afghan families forced to leave Pakistan, report from Save the Children
Hundreds of Afghan children are crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan every day with nowhere to live and no money for food after Pakistan announced that all undocumented foreigners must leave the country voluntarily by 1 November or face deportation, Save the Children said.
In the past six weeks, more than 120,000 Afghans have returned. Many children and families are returning with nothing and have nothing waiting for them. Last week, 57% more people crossed back into Afghanistan compared with the previous week. About 86% said that “fear of arrest” was their reason for returning, according to the UN.
The government of Pakistan has stated that its policy is not aimed at Afghans, but Afghans make up about 1.4 million of an estimated 1.7 million undocumented foreigners.
Returnees have told Save the Children that once they cross the border, many have nowhere to go They don’t have anywhere to live or money to pay for food, rent or transport. Some Afghan children who were born in Pakistan are coming to Afghanistan for the first time.
Jawid, 17, said: “I was born in Lahore and they didn’t allow me to attend school. Currently we don’t have anywhere to go. We don’t have a house in Afghanistan to live (in). I have been waiting at the Torkham border with my family for three days.”
Kamal, 14, said: “We don’t have cash for food and for reaching our final destination”.
Afghanistan is enduring its worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. Unprecedented levels of hunger and malnutrition combined with the worst drought in 30 years and a crippling economic crisis have left two out of three people in need of assistance. An estimated 3.2 million children under the age of 5 are facing acute malnutrition.
On top of this, four deadly earthquakes devastated large parts of the western province of Herat in October which could further worsen food insecurity. Children’s access to fundamental rights like healthcare, protection, and safe and quality education has been drastically diminished.
Save the Children’s mobile health team is working on the Afghan side of the border providing emergency health, nutrition and psychosocial support for families who have crossed from Pakistan. We are constructing shelters, water and sanitation facilities with child-friendly toilets as well as a playground.
Arshad Malik, Country Director for Save the Children in Afghanistan, has visited the border near Torkham. He said:
“We saw thousands of people living in squalid conditions on the Afghan side of the border without proper shelter, running water or toilets. Children and their families were gather red in small groups surrounding the meagre possessions they had brought with them from Pakistan. The children we saw were visibly distressed. Some were playing close to massive trucks. The border is no place for a child.
“These children need a place to call home. Many children and their families are returning with nothing – and have nothing waiting for them in Afghanistan. They need stability after being uprooted from their lives in Pakistan.
“Afghanistan is already enduring its worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory and is struggling to meet existing, massive needs due to shrinking international funding. Winter is fast approaching with temperatures dropping and thousands of people already in need of urgent assistance. Afghanistan cannot cope with a mass influx of people.”
27 Oct. 2023
Afghan nationals at risk of deportation from Pakistan. (OHCHR)
We are extremely alarmed by Pakistan’s announcement that it plans to deport “undocumented” foreign nationals remaining in the country after 1 November, a measure that will disproportionately impact more than 1.4 million undocumented Afghans who remain in Pakistan.
There are more than two million undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan, at least 600,000 of whom left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August 2021.
We believe many of those facing deportation will be at grave risk of human rights violations if returned to Afghanistan, including arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, cruel and other inhuman treatment.
Those at particular risk are: civil society activists, journalists, human rights defenders, former government officials and security force members, and of course women and girls as a whole, who, as a result of the abhorrent policies currently in place in Afghanistan, are banned from secondary and tertiary education, working in many sectors and other aspects of daily and public life.
Already, UNHCR and IOM have documented a sharp increase in returns to Afghanistan since the deadline was announced on 3 October. A recent flash report by UNHCR and IOM cited that 78 percent of those returning cited fear of arrest as the reason for leaving Pakistan.
We urge the Pakistan authorities to suspend forcible returns of Afghan nationals before it is too late to avoid a human rights catastrophe. We call on them to continue providing protection to those in need and ensure that any future returns are safe, dignified and voluntary and fully consistent with international law.
Deportations without individualized determinations of personal circumstances, including any mass deportations, would amount to refoulement in violation of international human rights law, in particular the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Pakistan is a State party, and of international refugee law.
And as winter approaches, any mass deportations are bound to deepen the dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, as it grapples with the devastating impact of a series of earthquakes that struck Herat Province this month.
According to OCHA, close to 30 million people are currently in need of relief assistance in Afghanistan - out of a population of 43 million - and 3.3 million are internally displaced.
We remind the de facto authorities of the international human rights obligations that continue to bind Afghanistan as a state and their obligations to protect, promote and fulfil human rights.


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