By Robin Gomes
Efforts to fight a global surge in acute food insecurity are being set back in several countries by conflicts and blockades that cut off life-saving aid to families on the brink of famine, say the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) in a new report released on Friday. Bureaucratic obstacles as well as a lack of funding also hamper the two UN agencies' efforts to provide emergency food assistance and enable farmers to plant at scale and at the right time.
23 hunger spots
Entitled “Hunger Hotspots”, the report by the Rome-based agencies warns of acute food insecurity in the August to November 2021 period. They are greatly concerned that food insecurity continues to grow in scale and severity because of conflicts, the economic repercussions of Covid-19, and the climate crisis. These factors are expected to drive higher levels of acute food insecurity in 23 hunger hotspots over the next four months, with conflict the biggest driver.
The 23 hotspots are: Afghanistan; Angola; Central African Republic; Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua); Central Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali and the Niger); Chad; Colombia; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Democratic People's Republic of Korea; Ethiopia; Haiti; Kenya; Lebanon; Madagascar; Mozambique; Myanmar; Nigeria; Sierra Leone together with Liberia; Somalia; South Sudan; Sudan; Syria; and Yemen.
The FAO and WFP have already warned that 41 million people were at risk of falling into famine unless they received immediate food and livelihood assistance.
According to the Global Report on Food Crisis, released in May, in 2020, 155 million people faced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels in 55 countries (IPC/CH Phases 3 or worse). This was an increase of more than 20 million from the previous year, a trend that is expected to worsen this year.
"The vast majority of those on the verge are farmers,” said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu. “Alongside food assistance,” he said, “we must do all we can to help them resume food production themselves so that families and communities can move back towards self-sufficiency and not just depend on aid to survive." He pointed out that this is difficult without adequate funding. “Without such support to agriculture, humanitarian needs will keep skyrocketing, that's inevitable," he added.
"Families that rely on humanitarian assistance to survive are hanging by a thread. When we cannot reach them that thread is cut, and the consequences are nothing short of catastrophic," warned David Beasley, WFP Executive Director.
Covid-129 and other factors
The FAO-WFP report points out that conflicts, climate extremes, and economic shocks - often related to the economic fallout of Covid-19 - will likely remain primary drivers of acute food insecurity for the August-November 2021 period. Transboundary threats are an aggravating factor in some regions. In particular, desert locust infestations in the Horn of Africa and African migratory locusts in Southern Africa require continued monitoring and vigilance.
Humanitarian access constraints are another severe aggravating factor that hampers efforts to curb food crises and prevent starvation, death, and a total collapse of livelihoods, increasing the risk of famine. Countries currently facing the most significant obstacles preventing aid from reaching those who need it most include Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Mozambique, Myanmar, the Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, the Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Beasley said humanitarian access means authorities facilitating swift delivery of food aid to destinations through checkpoints. It means humanitarian responders are not targeted, so they are able to carry out their life- and livelihood-saving work.
The hunger scenario
The report singled out Ethiopia and Madagascar as the world's newest "highest alert" hunger hotspots for the outlook of August to November 2021.
The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has unleashed a devastating food emergency, with 401,000 people expected to face catastrophic conditions by September - the highest number in one country since the 2011 famine in Somalia.
In southern Madagascar, the worst drought in 40 years - combined with rising food prices, sandstorms, and pests affecting staple crops - is expected to push 28,000 people into famine-like conditions by the end of the year.
South Sudan, Yemen, and northern Nigeria were already among the acute food insecurity hotspots of greatest global concern before Ethiopia and Madagascar.
Other countries among the worst hunger hotspots with life-threatening hunger on the rise are Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country with the highest number of people in urgent need of food assistance in the world.
The FAO and WFP underscore the urgent need for humanitarian action to prevent hunger, famine and death in all 23 hotspots. Their report provides country-specific recommendations covering both shorter-term emergency responses, as well as anticipatory actions to protect rural livelihoods and increase agricultural production to prevent food insecurity from worsening and help at-risk communities better withstand future shocks. (Source: FAO, WFP)