Global hunger levels have reached record highs in the last year alone and have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Food insecurity and hunger levels have not been this serious since 2016, when hunger saw an increase for the first time in a decade. The increase seen five years ago was sparked by climate change and ongoing conflict in some areas, and unfortunately, not much has changed in 2021.
Today, 155 million people are facing acute food insecurity (where people’s inability to consume enough food puts their lives in immediate danger) with 28 million people across 38 countries and territories teetering on the brink of starvation.
According to a report by the Global Network Against Food Crises, conflict, pandemic-related economic factors, and climate change are to blame for the worsening food crisis this year.
A large part of the global food crisis has been triggered by conflict and extended by the COVID-19 pandemic. The report highlighted conflict as the biggest driver of food insecurity in the world in 2020, with UN Secretary-General António Guterres calling conflict and hunger “mutually reinforcing.”
“We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either… We must do everything we can to end this vicious cycle,” he said. “Addressing hunger is a foundation for stability and peace.”
The report shows Africa is home to most hunger hotspots. Two out of three people that were impacted by food insecurity in the world in 2020 are from the continent.
However, high-conflict areas such as Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan that are not situated on the continent, have experienced some of the worst rates of hunger globally.
“Conflict forces people to leave their homes, land, and jobs,” Guterres explained. “It disrupts agriculture and trade, reduces access to vital resources like water and electricity, and so drives hunger and famine.”
While 38 countries and territories are experiencing high levels of food insecurity and hunger, some could face famine and starvation in a matter of months. In the short term, about a dozen conflict and crisis areas could experience famine as soon as June or July 2021, with the rest not far behind.
The UN uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification or the IPC Scale to analyse the impact of hunger in each country. This scale works in phases, with IPC Phase 1 meaning that there is minimal food insecurity in a country, and IPC Phase 5 indicating that a country is experiencing famine conditions.
Without immediate action, these nine countries could face extreme hunger as each is either at or approaching IPC Phase 4, which indicates emergency levels of hunger.
The most pressing issue in Ethiopia is the conflict taking place in the country’s Tigray region. This has been nothing short of a humanitarian crisis for almost a year. The fighting created barriers between aid agencies and people in need for an extended period of time between November 2020 and February 2021, and this has meant that Tigray’s people have had limited access to food and other basic necessities. The crisis has only worsened as hunger has reached catastrophic levels in the region and 33,000 children are at risk of death due to starvation.
Beyond Tigray, the country has faced the triple-threat of conflict, climate change, and COVID-19 in the struggle for food security. Desert locusts have ravaged the country’s food supply, and Ethiopia has also been faced with high inflation rates due to the pandemic and ongoing conflict.
Yemen has been experiencing civil war for almost eight years and hunger levels have been steadily increasing as a result. According to a report from the UN, an estimated 16 million people in the country are predicted to experience high levels of acute food insecurity by June.
This is an increase of 3 million since the end of last year. Most regions in Yemen are experiencing either acute to crisis levels of hunger, and the UN predicts that around 400,000 children could die as a result of malnutrition if action is not taken.
Afghanistan has been hit hard by all three drivers of hunger: conflict, climate change ,and COVID-19. More than half the population live below the poverty line with food insecurity driven mainly by the last two decades of conflict.
The country has also experienced droughts that have affected its food supply, and economic instability has worsened as a result of COVID-19. Around 11 million people in the country are already facing acute food insecurity, with 3.2 million of them experiencing emergency levels of hunger and those numbers are predicted to increase towards the end of 2021.
The number of people suffering from food insecurity in Syria has doubled in just three years. In 2020 alone an estimated 4.5 million people — nearly 60% of the population — were classed as food insecure, with the decade-long civil war in the country continuing and food prices increasing by 200% in the last year.
After 10 years of conflict, Syrian citizens have reported that life has never been as hard as it is today. The economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed Syrians even deeper into poverty, and the number of people who cannot survive without food aid is nearing 1.3 million in the country.
5. South Sudan
Another nation that is expected to reach emergency levels of hunger in the next few months is South Sudan. According to the UN, more than 7 million people or 60% of the country’s population are predicted to face crisis levels of acute food insecurity by July this year.
Like most countries on this list, the main driver of hunger in the country is conflict. However it has been exacerbated by floods that affected a million people last year, with the country expecting to experience more natural disasters this year.
Conflict in Northern Chad has displaced many and critically increased hunger levels in the country. The World Food Programme has struggled to provide aid to all of those in need as the violence has escalated and displaced more than 400,000 people.
According to the agency, 66% of Chadians live below the poverty line and a large number of them do not have access to safe drinking water, this paired with conflict is mainly why most of the country is malnourished. The IPC scale points to Chad’s situation being within the range of serious to critical.
7. Burkina Faso
Burkina Faso’s food shortages and malnutrition crisis have only worsened due to the pandemic. The West African country’s food security status has dropped due to many factors, but conflict has been at the forefront.
The economic impact of COVID-19 has seen citizens lose income needed to maintain their standards of living and afford food for their families. Women and children are particularly impacted, with an estimate of just over 630,000 children and 128,000 pregnant women and new mothers experiencing acute malnutrition.
The Caribbean country was ranked in the 10 worst food crises in the world in 2020, along with Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria. Over 900,000 people in the country are facing emergency levels of hunger and an estimated 4 million people (nearly 42% of the population) are experiencing acute hunger.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, food prices had been increasing as a result of political crises that have turned violent. Today, as the political crisis continues, the pandemic has also affected the country’s economic stability. As a result, people have been unable to afford basic foods.
9. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Senior official at the Food and Agriculture Organization, Luca Russo, has said that the DRC is experiencing the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world right now.”
With an estimated 27.3 million people in need of food aid and a further 7 million people facing severe malnutrition if immediate action is not taken. Since 2016 the country has been in conflict that has seen the displacement of over 900,000 people.
Not only has the DRC been dealing with conflict and the impact of COVID-19, the country has had to pivot their aid resources to tackling the recent ebola outbreaks that it has experienced, with the latest only ending in April 2021.
Bringing the hunger crisis to an end is part of Global Citizen’s Recovery Plan for the World campaign. The pandemic has pushed millions of people into severe hunger conditions and without urgent action, these conditions could only get worse. Take action with us here to help to defeat COVID-19 and end global hunger.