UN warns of acute food insecurity in 23 countries
UNITED NATIONS: Two United Nations agencies, World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), have warned that in the next four months, conflict, coronavirus and the climate crises are likely to increase hunger in 23 countries, including Afghanistan.
“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,” WFP executive director David Beasley warned.
Bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of funding also hamper the agencies’ efforts to provide emergency food assistance and enable farmers to plant at scale and at the right time.
“The vast majority of those on the verge are farmers. Alongside food assistance, we must do all we can to help them resume food production themselves,” FAO director-general QU Dongyu said.
“So far, [the] support to agriculture as key means of preventing widespread famine remains largely overlooked by [the] donors. Without such support to agriculture, humanitarian needs will keep skyrocketing,” he added.
The 23 hotspots identified are Afghanistan, Angola, Central Africa Republic, Central Sahel, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, El Salvador together with Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone together with Liberia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen.
The FAO and WFP have warned that 41 million people were already at risk of falling into famine. The year 2020 saw 155 million people facing acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels in 55 countries, according to the Global Report on Food Crises.
This is an increase of more than 20 million from 2019, and the trend is only expected to worsen this year.
The report highlights that conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks, often related to the economic fallout of the Covid-19, are likely to remain primary drivers of acute food insecurity for the August-November period this year.
Trans-boundary threats are also an aggravating factor in some regions. In particular, desert locust infestations in the Horn of Africa and African migratory locust swarms in Southern Africa. Humanitarian access constraints are another severe aggravating factor, increasing the risk of famine.
The countries currently facing the most significant obstacles preventing aid from reaching them included Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Mali, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
“The road to zero hunger isn’t paved with conflict, checkpoints and red-tape. [The] humanitarian access isn’t some abstract concept,” WFP’s Beasley said.
“It means [the] authorities approve paperwork in time so that food can be moved swiftly, it means checkpoints allow trucks to pass and reach their destination, it means humanitarian responders are not targeted, so they are able to carry out their life- and livelihood-saving work.”
Ethiopia and Madagascar are the world’s newest “highest alert” hunger hotspots, according to the report. Ethiopia faces a devastating food emergency linked to the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region.
Reaching those desperately in need remains an enormous challenge, with 401,000 people expected to face catastrophic conditions by September.
This is the highest number in one country since the 2011 famine in Somalia. Meanwhile, in southern Madagascar, 28,000 people are expected to be pushed into famine-like conditions by the end of the year.
This is due to the worst drought in 40 years, combined with the rising food prices, sandstorms, and pests affecting staple crops.
The new highest alerts issued for Ethiopia and Madagascar add to South Sudan, Yemen, and northern Nigeria, which remain among the acute food insecurity hotspots of greatest global concern.
In a few areas, some of these countries were already experiencing famine conditions and a significant number of people are at risk of falling into famine.
In Afghanistan, where acute food insecurity is becoming increasingly critical due to the ongoing drought, there is a rising conflict-driven displacement, as well as high food prices and widespread unemployment fuelled by the Covid-19.
Meanwhile, the already precarious situation in Haiti is expected to get worse, as the country faces likely lower staple crop production due to the lack of, or irregular, rainfall. It is also reeling from worsening political instability and food price inflation, and the impacts of the Covid-19-related restrictions.
The report warns that the humanitarian action is urgently needed to prevent hunger, famine and death in all 23 hotspots. It provides the country-specific recommendations, covering both shorter-term emergency responses, as well as anticipatory actions to protect rural livelihoods and increase agricultural production, so at-risk communities can better withstand future shocks.
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