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Food insecurity and hunger have doubled since 2019, according to experts

The threat of famine is faced by nearly fifty million people around the world. Levels of less severe hunger have doubled since 2019.

Update:
The threat of famine is faced by nearly fifty million people around the world. Levels of less severe hunger have doubled since 2019.
FEISAL OMARREUTERS

Global hunger is on the rise, and so are food prices.

Food security experts have warned of food shortages after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia sent energy-and-food-commodity markets soaring. Russia and Ukraine supply a good portion of global wheat and other food staples, the cultivation and harvest are being disrupted. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimate that around twenty percent of the Ukraine’s typical winter wheat production will be cut due the war with Russian. The consequences of this supply shortfall “will further reduce the global food supply, with serious implications for Europe, Central Asia and beyond.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) estimates that around 750,000 across several countries are starving and almost fifty million people are experiencing emergency levels of hunger and, thus, have become increasingly vulnerable to famine.

WFP Executive Director David Beasley has sent a stark warning in recent days, “We’re facing a perfect storm that is not just going to hurt the poorest of the poor - it’s also going to overwhelm millions of families who until now have just about kept their heads above water.”

Beasley and the leader of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization are caling on governments to provide the funding needed to avoid a widespread and deadily global food crisis. There are over twenty global hunger hotspots where humanitarian support is needed to “to save lives and livelihoods, and prevent famine” as experts predict hunger to worsen in the coming months.

There is a lot of jargon thrown around in the food security space. These terms and defintion are important to understand to capture the full scale of the global hunger crisis.

Food Insecurity Terminology

Hunger 

 The United Nations defines hunger as "periods when populations are experiencing severe food insecurity—meaning that they go for entire days without eating due to lack of money, lack of access to food, or other resources."

Malnutrition

The FAO has uses malnutrition to determine the prevalence of hunger in certain areas to highlight the negative and severe health impacts on the body. The WFP, describes malnutrition as "an umbrella term that covers undernutrition and overweight, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer." Malnutrition can also refer to situations where people are underweight or children have their growth stunted as a result of their lack of access to food. 

Food Insecurity 

There are various levels of food insecurity, but at the point one becomes food insecure, they will experience hunger. When people have trouble meeting their basic needs and are forced "to make significant changes to support their non-food needs," the World Food Program considers them food insecure.

  • Acute food insecurity "is any manifestation of food deprivation that threatens lives or livelihoods regardless of the causes, context or duration." Typically, this level of insecurity requires humanitarian intervention to prevent the situation from worsening. 

Famine

Famine is the most life threatening form of hunger and food insecurity. There are metrics that are used to identify a famine but without data on many situations around the world, the numbers are difficult to get right. During a famine, a third or more of the population is experiencing malnutrition and food insecurity and many people die as a result of starvation or preventable disease which went untreated because of resource scarcity. 

Currently around 811 million people are experiencing hunger. Levels of food insecurity have doubled from 2019, increasing from 135 million to 276 million. Of this total around 48.9 million people are facing acute or emergency levels of food insecurity that require humanitarian intervention.

The WFP had estimated that they would need to feed around 147 million people in 2022, but those numbers are growing rapidly. This has led the organization to make “hard decisions, including cutting rations to be able to reach more people,” in Yemen, South Sudan, and Nigeria.

This is tantamount to taking from the hungry to feed the starving.”

Hunger, Conflict, and Covid-19

Global inequality was a major driver of global hunger before the pandemic.

Hundreds of millions of people did not have access to enough food to meet their basic needs. The covid-19 pandemic combined with violent conflict has made the situation worse for millions across the globe. Additionally, many low income countries have struggled to access global vaccine markets leading to compounding health crisis. Only 1.4 percent of the population in Yemen is fully vaccinated meaning that the threat of covid-19 is even greater as people face severe levels of malnutrition and starvation.

Before the covid-19 pandemic much work within the social sciences had been done to identify the root causes of famine and build institutions designed to prevent them from occurring. Largely, while there is a greater understand of how famines arise, it does not seem that the mechanisms in place will be able to prevent rapid increases in the number of people experiencing hunger, and in some cases, starvation, in the coming months.

Rates of acute food insecurity rise rapidly in the DRC and Somalia

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, experts say more than nineteen million people, are on the brink of famine.

Over the last year, this figure has increased by more than fifteen million. In part, the rapid rise is due to already low levels of economic security. More than half the population in the DRC lives in extreme poverty which means that when a crisis strikes, there exists very little economic resilience to adapt or cope with the new conditions.

Conditions in Somalia are also declining rapidly. Environmental disasters including historic draught has left millions across the horn of Africa food insecure.

Six million people in Somalia are are experiencing threats to their lives and/or livelihoods because food has become so scarce. Children are being hit particularly hard by the crisis. A total of 1.4 million children face acute malnutrition, of which 330,000 are at risk of starvation and death if intervention is not taken.

Already, the devestation is taking its toll. Last week, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula, told reporters that thousands have defintely died even thouh the data has yet to be provided.

The warnings from the WFP could not be more stark: “If the March to June rainy season also fails, purchasing power continues to decline and humanitarian relief does not reach those most in need, Somalia could suffer famine by the middle of 2022.” This would not be the first famine in the last decade faced by the Somali population, once again highlighting the need to rethink the way food is distributed around the world.

The widening inequality between those who are able to rely on a sustained supply of food, and those who are not, is growing. No matter where someone lives in the world, they are entitled to food security.

Challenges also grow in Yemen and Afghanistan

Back in March, WFP Executive Director Beasley said that in Yemen there were over sixteen million people facing “crisis levels of hunger or worse.” We can assume that he is referring to starvation.

Following up Beasley warned that if action is not taken Yemen “is heading straight toward the biggest famine in modern history.”

It is hell on earth in many places in Yemen right now.” Calls have gone un-awnsered.

In Afghanistan, half of the population lacks sufficient access to food. Now under Taliban rule, many donor countries have restricted their funding, leaving many without the aid needed to secure enough food.

The WFP has reported that “almost half of the children under 5 and a quarter of pregnant and breastfeeding women need life-saving nutrition support in the next 12 months.” In other words, they need food or they may die. After decades of military and civil conflict, the Afghani people continue to be left behind by the international community which has continuously failed to uphold and respect their human rights.