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‘People aren't starving, they are being starved’
by Peyvand Khorsandi
International Council of Voluntary Agencies, agencies
May 2021
Humanitarian agencies issue joint call for funds to avert famine
International Council of Voluntary Agencies rallies Oxfam, Save the Children and 258 other organizations after World Food Programme's warning on increasing levels of hunger.
Humanitarian agencies around the world have joined forces to warn that rising hunger levels are going to lead to famines unless urgent action is taken.
Oxfam, Save the Children and the International Red Cross are among 260 signatories to an open letter on famine prevention led by the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA).
The letter, published in The Guardian today, has warned “people are not starving, they are being starved” in countries such as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Haiti and Zimbabwe.
“Girls and boys, men and women” are being “starved by conflict and violence ... by inequality, by the impacts of climate change, by the loss of land, jobs or prospects, by a fight against COVID-19 that has left them even further behind.”
It comes as the WFP marks a year since urged the UN Security Council to act fast over “famines of biblical proportions”.
“It is human actions that are driving famine and hunger and it is our actions that can stop the worst impacts,” the letter stated.
Addressing world leaders as the “main duty-bearers”, it called for the immediate injection of $5.5bn for food assistance to reach more than “34 million people around the globe who are a step away from famine.”
It added: “We plead with you to enhance your efforts and work with all parties to end conflict and violence in all its forms.”
The UN’s call for a global ceasefire “must be immediately heeded,” it went on. “Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach communities without barriers or impediments so we can urgently support those most in need.
“We urge you to invest in alleviating poverty and hunger, in giving people the tools they need to build more resilient futures for themselves, sustainably adapt to climate change and guard against the shocks of COVID-19. This will help to prevent future conflict and displacement. This will prevent future hunger and famines.”
Geeta Bandiphillips, Head of Advocacy at the WFP, said: “The letter sounds the alarm about the drastically increased levels of hunger and the humanitarian funding gap we are facing today.
She added the initiative is “inspired by the ‘Call for Action to Avert Famine’ issued by WFP and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organizations in March, highlighting the plight of up to 270 million people who were acutely food insecure or at high risk at the start of the year.”
Bandiphillips said: “34 million people are teetering on the very edge of famine, with the slightest shock set to push them to starvation in the absence of urgent, immediate life-saving action.”
WFP and FAO’s “bilateral donors must recommit to scaling-up aid to save lives,” she added.
The letter urges action to end conflicts and calls on all parties to ensure unhindered humanitarian access.
ICVA is a global network of non-governmental organisations whose mission is to make humanitarian action more principled and effective by working collectively and independently to influence policy and practice.
In pursuing the letter, the organization is “elevating the issue of imminent famines on the global agenda to secure political will for mitigation and prevention,” said Bandiphillips.
She added that “collective advocacy around famine prevention and mitigation has strongly resonated” with other humanitarian organizations — it is rare to get this level of support for any cause.”
Amb. Ahmed Shehu, Regional Coordinator for the Civil Society Network of Lake Chad Basin, a signatory to the letter, said: “The situation here is really dire — “70 percent of people in this region are farmers but they can’t access their land because of violence, so they can’t produce food. These farmers have been providing food for thousands for years – now they have become beggars themselves.
“Food production is lost, so jobs are lost, so income is lost, so people cannot buy the food. Then, we as aid workers cannot safely even get to people to help them. Some of our members risked the journey to reach starving communities and were abducted – we don’t know where they are. This has a huge impact on those of us desperate to help.”
Bandiphillips said: “This open letter gave us a chance to put our individual agency agendas aside and collectively campaign and advocate for a bigger cause. That is, collective inaction will increase the likelihood of multiple famines in 2021, putting more than 34 million people at risk of starvation.”
David Miliband, CEO and President of the International Rescue Committee, said: “The worsening rate of global hunger is horrifying to witness. Every day we are seeing the human cost of hunger play out in the countries where we work. World leaders must act now to prevent unprecedented levels of suffering, through increased funding and diplomatic efforts to end conflict and improve humanitarian access.”
CARE International Secretary General, Sofía Sprechmann Sineiro said: “Whether Yemen, Syria or the DRC, funding to respond to the hunger crisis is not materializing. Yet trillions are invested in rescue packages for corporates all over the world. Donors must step up. It is not a matter of affordability; it is a matter of political will.”
The letter concluded: “There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century. History will judge us all by the actions we take today.”
Other signatories to the letter included the International Red Cross and Islamic Relief.

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UN Food Agencies warn of rising levels of acute hunger with potential risk of famine
by Fews Net, Reliefweb, WFP, IPC, agencies
June 2021
WFP Global Operational Response Plan: June 2021
The driving focus of the WFP’s Global Operational Response Plan is to provide government partners, policymakers, humanitarian counterparts, and concerned citizens with an update on evolving needs and WFP’s response priorities.
The world is no longer moving towards Zero Hunger. Progress has stalled, reversed, and today, up to 270.5 million people are estimated to be acutely food insecure or at high risk in 2021, driven by conflict, economic shocks, natural disasters, and the socio-economic fallout from COVID-19.
Urgent action and immediate support are needed to address and prevent famine for millions of people and avert catastrophic outcomes, including wide-scale food assistance cuts for refugees and other vulnerable people.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is taking a leadership role, working with partners globally and nationally to meet people’s emergency food and nutrition needs and reduce the structural vulnerabilities that underpin them – by strengthening the capacity of individuals, communities, and governments, improving livelihoods, building resilience and reinforcing national social protection systems.
The June update provides the latest information, figures, and a snapshot of how WFP is implementing the Global Operational Response Plan, by:
Warning of the drivers and multiplying risks that have resulted in surging food insecurity and deepening hunger, with 41 million people at risk of falling into famine in 43 countries, and 584,000 people likely to face famine-like conditions in Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen in 2021.
Setting out how WFP is responding through humanitarian action, development assistance and technical support to national governments – working to scale up lifesaving food and nutrition assistance, enhance prevention, and strengthen global and national partnerships.
Identifying WFP’s Operations of Highest Concern, where the scale and severity of food and nutrition insecurity, the scale of WFP’s operational requirements, and the urgency of funding gaps intersect, along with providing a detailed country-by-country overview across WFP’s operations.
Despite mounting operational requirements, the 2021 global contribution forecast covers just 55 percent of WFP’s current operational requirements of US$ 15.3 billion. For the next six months alone, WFP still requires US$ 4.5 billion to cover needs from June to November 2021.
Jan. 2021
Impacts of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition. (Committee on World Food Security - High Level Panel of Experts)
The COVID-19 pandemic that has spread rapidly and extensively around the world since late 2019 has had profound implications for food security and nutrition. The unfolding crisis has affected food systems and threatened people’s access to food via multiple dynamics.
We have witnessed not only a major disruption to food supply chains in the wake of lockdowns triggered by the global health crisis, but also a major global economic slowdown.
These crises have resulted in lower incomes and higher prices of some foods, putting food out of reach for many, and undermining the right to food and stalling efforts to meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2: “Zero hunger.” The situation is fluid and dynamic, characterized by a high degree of uncertainty.
According to the World Health Organization, the worst effects are yet to come. Most health analysts predict that this virus will continue to circulate for a least one or two more years.
The food security and nutrition risks of these dynamics are serious. Already, before the outbreak of the pandemic, according to the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition report, some two billion people faced food insecurity at the moderate or severe level. Since 2014, these numbers have been climbing. The COVID-19 pandemic is undermining efforts to achieve SDG2.
The complex dynamics triggered by the lockdowns intended to contain the disease are creating conditions for a major disruption to food systems, giving rise to a dramaticincrease in hunger. The most recent estimates indicate that between 132 million additional people—including 80 million people in low-income countries that rely on food imports will experience food insecurity as a direct result of the pandemic.
At least 25 countries, including Lebanon, Yemen and South Sudan, are at risk of significant food security deterioration because of the secondary socio-economic impacts of the pandemic (FAO and WFP, 2020). In Latin America, the number of people requiring food assistance has almost tripledin 2020.
Food productivity could also be affected in the future, especially if the virus is not contained and the lockdown measures continue.
The purpose of this issues paper, requested by the Chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), is to provide insights in addressing the food and nutrition security implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
* Access the report (25pp):
* Hunger Hotspots: FAO-WFP early warnings on acute food insecurity (March-July 2021):
* Inter Agency Standing Committee (Food Security 20-21)):
* Right to Food: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri:
Nov. 2020
WFP Global Update on COVID-19: Growing Needs, Response to Date and What’s to Come in 2021
WFP estimates that 271.8 million people in countries where it operates are acutely food insecure - or directly at-risk of becoming so - due to the aggravating effect the protracted COVID-19 crisis is having in areas affected by conflict, socio-economic downturn, natural hazards, climate change and pests. The latest estimate marks an increase in acute food insecurity from the earlier June projection. This November update of WFP's Global Response Plan to COVID-19 takes stock of efforts by regional bureaux and country offices to continue to sustain and scale-up operations to assist vulnerable communities and to support governments in their health and hunger response.
Food security partners still do not have the funding required to implement operations at the level required to prevent catastrophe. Needs-based plans developed by WFP country offices for the next six months stand at USS 7.7 billion through April 2021, half of which is still to be resourced: (88p)
Nov. 2020
UN Food Agencies warn of rising levels of acute hunger with potential risk of famine in four hotspots
The world has been put on a heightened famine alert with a new report by two United Nations agencies that contains a stark warning; four countries contain areas that could soon slip into famine if conditions there undergo “any further deterioration over the coming months”. These are Burkina Faso in West Africa’s Sahel region, northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen.
The Early Warning Analysis of Acute Food Insecurity Hotspots – issued today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) – describes a toxic combination of conflict, economic decline, climate extremes and the COVID-19 pandemic that is driving people further into the emergency phase of food insecurity.
Parts of the population in the four hotspots of highest concern are already experiencing a critical hunger situation, with the report warning that escalations in conflict as well as a further reduction in humanitarian access could lead to a risk of famine.
But these four countries are far from being the only red flag on a world map that shows that acute food insecurity levels are reaching new highs globally, driven by a combination of factors, the report notes. Another 16 countries are at high risk of rising levels of acute hunger.
The aim of the Hotspots report is to inform urgent action that can be taken now to avoid a major emergency – or series of emergencies – in three to six months from today. How the situation evolves in the highest risk countries will depend on conflict dynamics, food prices, and the myriad impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their food systems, rainfall and harvest outcomes, humanitarian access, and the readiness of donors to continue funding humanitarian operations.
“This report is a clear call to urgent action,” said Dominique Burgeon, FAO’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience. “We are deeply concerned about the combined impact of several crises which are eroding people’s ability to produce and access food, leaving them more and more at risk of the most extreme hunger. We need access to these populations to ensure they have food and the means to produce food and improve their livelihoods to prevent a worst-case scenario.”
“We are at a catastrophic turning point. Once again, we face the risk of famine in four different parts of the world at the same time. When we declare a famine it means many lives have already been lost. If we wait to find that out for sure, people are already dead,” said Margot van der Velden, WFP Director of Emergencies.
“In 2011, Somalia suffered a famine that killed 260,000 people. The famine was declared in July, but most people had already died by May. We cannot let this happen again. We have a stark choice; urgent action today, or unconscionable loss of life tomorrow,” she warned.
All told, the joint report points to a total of 20 countries and contexts that are at “further risk of deterioration of acute food insecurity”, with key drivers of hunger including expansion and intensification of violence, economic crises exacerbated by COVID-19 socioeconomic impact, weather extremes, transboundary threats like the Desert Locust and a lack of humanitarian access.
It notes that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo there are 22 million people now estimated to be acutely food insecure - the highest number ever registered for a single country. Burkina Faso has registered the biggest increase with the numbers of desperately hungry people almost tripling compared to 2019, driven by increasing conflict, displacement and COVID-related impacts on employment and food access.
The situation is also dire in Yemen, where the existing food insecurity combined with conflict and a deepening economic crisis could lead to a further deterioration of an already critical food security situation.
Catastrophe/famine is the most severe of five phases used by the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) system to chart escalating degrees of food insecurity. When this extreme phase is declared, it means that people have already started dying from starvation. The Hotspots report is saying that, unless urgent action is now taken, the world could experience its first outbreak of famine since it was last declared in 2017 in parts of South Sudan.
This new report was developed under the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) – an alliance of humanitarian and development actors launched in 2016 by the European Union, FAO and WFP to tackle the root causes of food crises through shared analysis and knowledge, strengthened coordination in evidence-based responses, and collective efforts across the humanitarian, development and peace nexus.

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