Life-saving aid to families on the brink of famine is being cut off in several countries by fighting and blockades, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) said in a new report issued on Friday. Of grave concern are 23 ‘hunger hotspots’ which over the next four months are expected to face an acute level of food insecurity due to the combined economic repercussions of COVID-19, the climate crisis and fighting. “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.
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,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “So far, support to agriculture as key means of preventing widespread famine remains largely overlooked by 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, Yemen.
FAO and WFP have warned that 41 million people were already at risk of falling into famine. 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 COVID-19, are likely to remain primary drivers of acute food insecurity for the August-November period this year. Transboundary 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.
Communities cut off
Humanitarian access constraints are another severe aggravating factor, increasing the risk of famine. Countries currently facing the most significant obstacles preventing aid from reaching them include 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. Humanitarian access isn’t some abstract concept. “It means authorities approving 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,” said Mr. Beasley.
‘Highest alert’ hotspots
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 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 are already experiencing famine conditions and significant numbers of people are at risk of falling into famine.
In Afghanistan, where acute food insecurity is becoming increasingly critical due to ongoing drought, there is rising conflict-driven displacement as well as high food prices and widespread unemployment fuelled by 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 lack of, or irregular, rainfall. It is also reeling from worsening political instability and food price inflation and the impacts of COVID-19-related restrictions.
The report warns that humanitarian action is urgently needed to prevent hunger, famine, and death in all 23 hotspots. It provides 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.