29.09.2022 |

Almost 1 million people are facing starvation, UN report warns

Millions of people are living from hand to mouth (Photo: CC0)

The number of people facing acute food insecurity worldwide will continue to rise very quickly as the food crisis tightens its grip on several ‘hunger hotspots’ identified by a new UN report. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warn that millions of people are facing starvation and death if humanitarian assistance is not scaled up rapidly. Rising conflict, weather extremes, and economic instability aggravated by the lingering impacts of COVID-19 and the effects of the war in Ukraine are among the key drivers of acute food security, the two organisations said in a joint press release. The report released on September 21 says there are 17 countries and 2 regional clusters - the 19 hunger hotspots - where parts of the population will likely face a significant deterioration of already high levels of acute food insecurity during the outlook period from October 2022 to January 2023, putting lives and livelihoods at risk. The report focuses on the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa, where the longest drought in over 40 years is forecast to continue. The fifth consecutive failed rainy season will be aggravating the situation. “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,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “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,” he added.

The report uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an index agreed on by the international community as a global reference for the classification of food insecurity which includes 5 phases. People in IPC/CH Phase 3 and above are in urgent need of assistance. In phase 3, households are at crisis level and urgent action is needed to protect livelihoods and reduce food consumption gaps. At emergency level 4, lives and livelihoods are at risk because households have large food consumption gaps which are reflected in very high acute malnutrition and excess mortality. At IPC Phase 5 (Catastrophe level), starvation, death, destitution and extremely critical acute malnutrition levels are evident. The new report sounds the alarm because 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 due to catastrophic conditions in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, if no action is taken. This number is ten times higher than six years ago when only two countries had populations in Phase 5. Around 45 million people in 37 countries are projected to have so little to eat that they will be severely malnourished, at risk of death or already facing starvation and death (IPC/CH Phase 4 and above). A total of 222 million people in 53 countries/territories are expected to be in need of urgent assistance (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above).

The situation is especially alarming in the Horn of Africa: 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. In Somalia, a likely fifth below‑average rainy season, combined with high food prices and persistent conflict, is rapidly driving an extreme deprivation of food, with parts of Bay region likely to experience famine in the context of critical gaps in funding levels to support humanitarian assistance in the last quarter of the year. Overall, 6.7 million people are expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 and above) in the outlook period, including 2.2 million people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and at least 300 000 people in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). “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,” the two organisations warn in their press release. “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,” said WFP’s Executive Director David Beasley. “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.” The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Kenya, the Sahel, the Sudan and Syria also remain ‘of very high concern’ with deteriorating conditions. The alert is also extended to the Central African Republic and Pakistan. Guatemala, Honduras and Malawi have recently been added to the list of hotspot countries, joining Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.

Violent conflict remains the primary driver of acute hunger and a continuation of this trend is projected 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. Climate change is also taking its toll. 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. For example, 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. In addition, for the first time in 20 years, the La Niña 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. Another factor are economic risks. The persistently high global prices of food, fuel and fertilizer continue to drive high domestic prices and economic instability. Rising inflation rates have forced governments to introduce 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, says the report.

The two organisations call for urgent humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods and prevent famine in hotspot countries, especially Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. “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,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. The report highlights 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. It presents country-specific recommendations for each of the hunger hotspots on priorities for anticipatory action – short-term protective measures to be put in place before new humanitarian needs materialize; as well as emergency response – actions to address existing humanitarian needs. In the case of Somalia, for example, the authors recommend a number of anticipatory actions such as support for social protection and humanitarian programs to avert the loss of livelihoods and asset depletion. Another measure is to build social cohesion to reduce tension over access to dwindling common resources such as water (for human and livestock) and pasture. The emergency response would require USD 624.4 million for food security and livelihoods, and USD 178.8 million for nutrition interventions. It is also necessary to scale up lifesaving emergency food, cash, health, water, sanitation and hygiene as well as nutrition services through more proactive approaches, including mobile health and nutrition services in hotspot districts. The authors also recommend to expand the delivery of life‑saving food and nutrition assistance to populations living in hard‑to‑reach areas and areas that have remained inaccessible so far. (ab)

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