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UN: Hunger set to rise in more than 20 countries

March 23, 2021

Political conflicts, the coronavirus pandemic and climate change will have drastic effects on the lives of millions of people in the coming months, a pair of UN agencies has said.

Crumbs on a white plate
People are already going hungry in many of the places expected to be worst affected by declining food suppliesImage: Gaetan Bally/KEYSTONE/picture alliance

Acute hunger will increase in over 20 countries if the global community does not take action soon, the United Nations said in a report released Tuesday by the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Around the world, 34 million people already suffer from extreme malnutrition, which means they are close to dying from starvation, the FAO and WFP wrote.

"We are seeing a catastrophe unfold before our very eyes. Famine — driven by conflict, and fueled by climate shocks and the COVID-19 hunger pandemic — is knocking on the door for millions of families," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.

Where is hunger the worst?

The situation was especially critical in war-torn Yemen, in South Sudan and in northern Nigeria, according to the report.

Although the majority of crisis areas were in Africa, acute hunger could also increase in many other countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and Haiti, the report found.

"Targeted humanitarian action is needed to prevent hunger or death in these most at-risk situations and to safeguard the most vulnerable communities," the UN Hunger Hotspots report said.

Parts of the populations in these countries are already experiencing "extreme depletion of livelihoods, insufficient food consumption and high acute malnutrition," the joint report warned.

"In such fragile contexts, any further shocks could push a significant number of people over the brink and into destitution and even starvation," the report said.

"We urgently need three things to stop millions from dying of starvation: the fighting has to stop, we must be allowed access to vulnerable communities to provide life-saving help, and, above all, we need donors to step up with the $5.5 billion we are asking for this year," Beasley added.

A child in Sanaa, Yemen, drinks a nutritional shake at a hospital
Years of war have left people like this child in Yemen without access to the food they need to surviveImage: Khaled Abdullah/REUTERS

Why is global hunger increasing?

According to the FAO/WFP report, hunger is increasing in many parts of the world due to ongoing conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events, locusts decimating crops and lack of access to the populations most at-risk of starvation.

Earlier this month, the FAO and WFP called for $5.5 billion (€4.6 billion) to swiftly scale up actions and avert famine through a combination of humanitarian food assistance, cash and emergency livelihoods interventions.

"In many regions, the planting season has just started or is about to start. We must run against the clock and not let this opportunity to protect, stabilize and even possibly increase local food production slip away," said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.

sms/aw (dpa, AFP, EPD)