Humanitarian action critical to preventing starvation and death
by World Food Programme (WFP), FAO, agencies
The number of people facing acute food insecurity worldwide is expected to continue to rise precipitously, as the food crisis tightens its grip on 19 ‘hunger hotspots’ – driven by rising conflict, weather extremes, and economic instability aggravated by the pandemic and the ripple effects of the crisis in Ukraine, a joint UN report released today has found.
The ‘Hunger Hotspots – FAO-WFP early warnings on acute food insecurity’ report - issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) calls for urgent humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods and prevent famine in hotspot countries where acute food insecurity is expected to worsen from October 2022 to January 2023.
The report offers country-specific recommendations on priorities for anticipatory action – short-term protective measures to be put in place before new humanitarian needs materialize; and emergency response – actions to address existing humanitarian needs.
“The severe drought in the Horn of Africa has pushed people to the brink of starvation, destroying crops and killing livestock on which their survival depends. Acute food insecurity is rising fast and spreading across the world. People in the poorest countries in particular who have yet to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are suffering from the ripple effects of ongoing conflicts, in terms of prices, food and fertilizer supplies, as well as the climate emergency. Without a massively scaled up humanitarian response that has at its core time-sensitive and life-saving agricultural assistance, the situation will likely worsen in many countries in the coming months,” the report states.
“This is the third time in 10 years that Somalia has been threatened with a devastating famine. The famine in 2011 was caused by two consecutive failed rainy seasons as well as conflict. Today we’re staring at a perfect storm: a likely fifth consecutive failed rainy season that will see drought lasting well into 2023. But the people at the sharp end of today’s crisis are also facing soaring food prices and severely limited opportunities to earn a living following the pandemic. We urgently need to get help to those in grave danger of starvation in Somalia and the world’s other hunger hotspots,” said David Beasley, WFP’s Executive Director.
The report spotlights the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa, where the longest drought in over 40 years is forecast to continue - with the fifth failed rainy season in a row on the horizon - adding to the cumulative, devastating effects that successive rainfall deficits, economic crises and conflict have had on vulnerable households since 2020. Water scarcity has led to below average harvests, livestock deaths, and forced hundreds of thousands of people off their land in search of sustenance, while increasing the risk of intercommunal and resource-based conflict.
Up to 26 million people are expected to face Crisis or worse (IPC Phase 3 and above) levels of food insecurity in Somalia, southern and eastern Ethiopia, and northern and eastern Kenya. With humanitarian assistance at risk of being cut due to funding shortfalls, the spectre of large-scale deaths from hunger looms large in Somalia, with famine likely to take hold in the districts of Baidoa and Burhakaba in Bay region come October. Without an adequate humanitarian response, analysts expect that by December, as many as four children or two adults per 10 000 people will die every day. Hundreds of thousands are already facing starvation today with staggering levels of malnutrition expected among children under 5.
Globally, an all-time high of 970,000 people are expected to face catastrophic hunger (IPC Phase 5) and are starving or projected to starve or at risk of deterioration to catastrophic conditions in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, if no action is taken – ten times more than six years ago when only two countries had populations in Phase 5.
According to the report, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen remain at the ‘highest alert’ as hotspots, alone account for almost a million people facing catastrophic levels of hunger (IPC Phase 5 ‘Catastrophe’) with starvation and death a daily reality and where extreme levels of mortality and malnutrition may unfold without immediate action.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Kenya, the Sahel, the Sudan and Syria remain ‘of very high concern’ with deteriorating conditions – as in the June edition of the quarterly report – but the alert is extended to the Central African Republic and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Guatemala, Honduras and Malawi have been added to the list of countries, joining Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Madagascar that remain hunger hotspots.
Violent conflict remains the primary driver of acute hunger with analysis indicating a continuation of this trend in 2022, with particular concern for Ethiopia, where an intensification of conflict and interethnic violence in several regions is expected to further escalate, driving up humanitarian needs.
Weather extremes such as floods, tropical storms and droughts remain critical drivers in many parts of the globe, and a “new normal” of consecutive and extreme weather events is becoming clear - particularly in the hotspots. Devastating floods have affected 33 million people in Pakistan alone this year and South Sudan faces a fourth consecutive year of extreme flooding. Meanwhile, a third consecutive season of below-average rainfall is projected in Syria.
For the first time in 20 years, the La Nina climate event has continued through three consecutive years – affecting agriculture and causing crop and livestock losses in many parts of the world, including Afghanistan, West and East Africa and Syria.
On the economic front, the persistently high global prices of food, fuel, and fertilizer – continue to drive high domestic prices and economic instability. Rising inflation rates have led governments to enact monetary-tightening measures in advanced economies which have also increased the cost of credit of low-income countries. This is constraining the ability of heavily indebted countries – the number of countries increased significantly in recent years - to finance the import of essential items.
In the face of these macroeconomic challenges, many governments are introducing austerity measures affecting incomes and purchasing power – particularly among the most vulnerable families. These trends are expected to increase in coming months, the report notes, with poverty and acute food insecurity rising further.
Humanitarian assistance is crucial to save lives and prevent starvation, death and the total collapse of livelihoods – the report notes, highlighting that insecurity, administrative and bureaucratic impediments, movement restrictions and physical barriers severely limit humanitarian responders’ access to people facing acute hunger in eleven of the hotspot countries, including all six of the countries where populations are facing or are projected to face starvation (IPC Phase 5), or are at risk of deterioration towards catastrophic conditions.
The report calls for targeted humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods in the 19 hunger hotspots, noting that in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, humanitarian action will be critical in preventing further starvation and death.
20 Sep. 2022
With one person estimated to be dying of hunger every four seconds, 238 local and international non-governmental organisations are calling on leaders gathering at the 77th UN General Assembly to take decisive action to end the spiralling global hunger crisis.
Organisations from 75 countries have signed an open letter expressing outrage at skyrocketing hunger levels and recommendations for action. A staggering 345 million people are now experiencing acute hunger, a number that has more than doubled since 2019.
Despite promises from world leaders to never allow famine again in the 21st century, famine is once more imminent in Somalia. Around the world, 50 million people are on the brink of starvation in 45 countries.
Dear UN Member States,
"No water, no food, a hopeless life. Above all, my children are starving. They are on the verge of death. Unless they get some food, I'm afraid they will die." - Sumaya, 32, mother of four, IDP camp in the Somali Region, Ethiopia
We, the undersigned 238 non-governmental organizations working with the most vulnerable communities and witnessing the catastrophic effects of the unprecedented global food crisis unfolding, urgently request that you act immediately to prevent more unnecessary suffering.
From Somalia to Haiti, South Sudan to Yemen, Afghanistan to Nigeria, people’s lives in the most fragile contexts are being devastated by a global food crisis, fueled by a deadly mix of conflict, climate change, rising costs and economic crises, exacerbated by COVID-19 and the Ukraine conflict.
Fifty million people are now just one step away from starvation. Over 345 million more are bowing under the crushing weight of hunger, struggling to feed their families and at risk of death.
Behind these statistics are real people and lack of action has horrific, real life and death consequences. For the woman who fled her country to escape the violence of war and now has her food ration halved or suspended completely. For the hungry child forced to drop out of school to work so their family can eat. For the young girl forced into marriage, where she faces sexual exploitation and abuse. And for the caregiver who makes the long journey to seek treatment for a severely malnourished toddler only to find the health clinic is closed due to funding shortages.
The international community and national governments are failing to meet their duty and have prioritised political and economic interests over the wellbeing of the world’s most vulnerable children, families and communities. While political leaders have made many promises, in the cities, towns, villages, and refugee and internal displacement camps where millions of lives hang in the balance, far too little has changed.
In a world of plenty, leaving people to starve is a policy choice. We call on you as world leaders to take urgent action to stem this crisis and prevent future ones.
You must immediately deliver the funding needed to reach 50 million people on the edge of starvation to save lives NOW. You must also support vulnerable countries and communities to build resilience NOW.
And you must take action to anticipate, prevent and prepare for subsequent crises to secure the future, including by delivering much needed climate finance, reallocated Special Drawing Rights, and meaningful debt relief.
We repeatedly miss the opportunity to prevent hunger and hardship from happening in the first place by not responding quickly enough to early warnings to save lives, build resilience, and make the smart investments needed to sustainably address hunger crises in the long term.
If the pandemic taught us anything it is that prevention is more humane and much less expensive than waiting to respond. The lack of political will and institutional failure to act quickly before the worst-case hits means people are being left to lurch from crisis to crisis. People are not starving; they are being starved.
Accompanying this letter, we outline a set of specific recommendations to help address the current hunger crisis and prevent future crises, endorsed by NGOs across the world.
We have already lost far too much time – the families we work with every day need action NOW.
The lives of millions of girls, boys, women, and men depend on the bold and courageous actions you, the United Nations Member States, take - or fail to take – when you gather at the UN General Assembly in the coming weeks.
We must not let people starve to death on our watch. There is no place for famine in the 21st century.
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Deteriorating hunger situation an urgent crisis for millions
by International Committee of the Red Cross, agencies
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.
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.
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