A hunger catastrophe: Conflict, COVID, the climate crisis and rising costs have combined in 2022 to create jeopardy for the world’s 811 million hungry people
As 811 million people go to bed hungry every night, the number of those facing acute food insecurity has jumped from 135 million to 283 million since 2019. A total of 45 million people in 43 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.
This seismic hunger crisis has been caused by a deadly combination of four factors.
- Conflict is still the biggest driver of hunger, with 60 percent of the world’s hungry living in areas afflicted by war and violence.
- Climate shocks destroy lives, crops and livelihoods, undermine people’s ability to feed themselves, and have displaced 30 million from their homes globally in 2020.
- The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are driving hunger to unprecedented levels.
- And, last but not least, the costs of reaching people in need is rising: the price WFP is paying for food up 30 percent compared to 2019 and the cost of delivering that food has risen by an additional US$50 million a month, compared to that same year.
From the Central American Dry Corridor and Haiti, through the Sahel, Central African Republic, South Sudan and then eastwards to the Horn of Africa, Syria, Yemen and all the way to Afghanistan, there is a ring of fire stretching around the world where conflict and climate shock are driving millions of people to the brink of starvation.
While needs are sky-high, resources have hit rock bottom. The World Food Programme (WFP) requires US$18 billion to reach 140 million people in 2022. However, with the global economy reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, the gap between needs and funding is bigger than ever before.
Unless the necessary resources are made available, lost lives and the reversal of hard-earned development gains will be the price to pay.
In countries like Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, WFP is already faced with hard decisions, including cutting rations to be able to reach more people. This is tantamount to taking from the hungry to feed the starving.
The consequences of not investing in resilience activities will reverberate across borders. If communities are not empowered to withstand the shocks and stresses they are exposed to, this could result in increased migration and possible destabilization and conflict. Recent history has shown us this: When WFP ran out of funds to feed Syrian refugees in 2015, they had no choice but to leave the camps and seek help elsewhere, causing one of the greatest refugee crises in recent European history.
Levels of humanitarian and development assistance must be stepped up to allow WFP to continue its life-saving work in emergencies but also to build the ability of families and communities to feed themselves and break their dependence on humanitarian support.
Evidence shows this approach pays dividends. In just three years to 2021, WFP and local communities turned 272,000 acres of barren fields in the Sahel region of five African countries into productive farmland, changing the lives of over 2.5 million people and contributing to peace and stability. In Bangladesh in 2020, WFP supported 145,000 people with cash assistance ahead of severe forecast flooding. This empowered families to buy food and medicine, protect critical assets and transport livestock and families to safe places, preventing losses and damages. This cut the emergency response cost by over half.
However, to achieve Zero Hunger, money is not enough. Only political will can end conflict in places like Yemen, Ethiopia and South Sudan, and without a firm political commitment to contain global warming as stipulated in the Paris Agreement, the main drivers of hunger will continue unabated.
Ending hunger is everybody’s business
Putting an end to hunger and malnutrition is a moral imperative, and it is not just traditional government donors that have a hand in this.
Private sector companies can support WFP’s work through technical assistance and knowledge transfers, as well as financial contributions. High net-worth individuals and ordinary citizens alike can all play a part, and youth, influencers and celebrities can raise their voices against the injustice of global hunger.
Together, we can make hunger a thing of the past.