The number of people facing acute food insecurity and requiring urgent life-saving food assistance and livelihood support continues to grow at an alarming rate.
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This makes it more urgent than ever to tackle the root causes of food crises rather than just responding after they occur. This is a key takeaway from an annual report launched today by the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) - an international alliance of the United Nations, the European Union, governmental and non-governmental agencies working to tackle food crises together.
The report focuses on those countries and territories where the magnitude and severity of the food crisis exceed the local resources and capacities. In these situations, the mobilization of the international community is necessary.
The document reveals that around 193 million people in 53 countries or territories experienced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels (IPC/CH Phase 3-5) in 2021.
This represents an increase of nearly 40 million people compared with the already record numbers of 2020. Of these, over half a million people (570 000) in Ethiopia, southern Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen were classified in the most severe phase of acute food insecurity Catastrophe (IPC/CH Phase 5) and required urgent action to avert widespread collapse of livelihoods, starvation and death.
When looking at the same 39 countries or territories featured in all editions of the report, the number of people facing crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above) nearly doubled between 2016 and 2021, with unabated rises each year since 2018.
These worrying trends are the result of multiple drivers feeding into one another, ranging from conflict to environmental and climate crises, from economic to health crises with poverty and inequality as undelaying causes.
Conflict remains the main driver of food insecurity.
While the analysis predates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the report finds that the war has already exposed the interconnected nature and fragility of global food systems, with serious consequences for global food and nutrition security.
Countries already coping with high levels of acute hunger are particularly vulnerable to the risks created by the war in Eastern Europe, notably due to their high dependency on imports of food and agricultural inputs and vulnerability to global food price shocks, it notes.
The key drivers behind rising acute food insecurity in 2021 were:
conflict (main driver pushing 139 million people in 24 countries/territories into acute food insecurity, up from around 99 million in 23 countries/territories in in 2020);
weather extremes (over 23 million people in 8 countries/territories, up from 15.7 million in 15 countries/territories);
economic shocks - (over 30 million people in 21 countries/territories, down from over 40 million people in 17 countries/territories in 2020 mainly due to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic).
The findings of the report demonstrate the need for a greater prioritization of smallholder agriculture as a frontline humanitarian response, to overcome access constraints and as a solution for reverting negative long-term trends.
Furthermore, promoting structural changes to the way external financing is distributed, so that humanitarian assistance can be reduced over time through longer-term development investments, can tackle the root causes of hunger.
In parallel, we need to collectively promote more efficient and sustainable ways of providing humanitarian assistance.
Likewise, strengthening a coordinated approach to ensure that humanitarian, development and peacekeeping activities are delivered in a holistic and coordinated manner, and ensuring and avoiding further fuelling conflict as an unintended consequence will also contribute to resilience building and recovery. ■