Severe hunger affected at least 155 million people last year as a result of conflicts, the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, and weather extremes and the outlook for this year is equally harsh or worse, a report by 16 organizations says.
Two-thirds of the people in those crisis levels were in 10 countries -- Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Congo, northern Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Haiti.
The 155 million people faced “crisis," “emergency," or “catastrophe/famine" levels of food needs, an increase of around 20 million people from 2019, it said.
“The number of people facing acute food insecurity and requiring urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance is on the rise,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote in the forward to the 307-page Global Report on Food Crises.
“There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century,” Guterres said. “We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either.”
The report, which covers 55 countries that account for 97 percent of humanitarian assistance, also said that 133,000 people in Burkina Faso, South Sudan, and Yemen needed urgent food to prevent widespread death from starvation last year.
World Food Program’s chief economist Arif Husain said at a UN news conference that the biggest driver of food crises is conflict, which accounted for 99 million people in 23 countries facing a food crisis last year.
“Unless we start finding political solutions to conflicts,” the number of people needing humanitarian assistance will keep increasing, Husain said.
According to the report, 40.5 million people in 17 countries faced acute food insecurity last year because of “economic shocks” including the fallout from the pandemic.
The report said 75.2 million children under 5 years old living in the 55 countries were “stunted” in their growth and 15.8 million were “wasted,” or underweight for their height.
It said, “food crises are becoming increasingly protracted and the ability to recover from new adverse events is becoming more difficult” this year.
“Conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and large-scale economic crises are expected to extend food-crisis situations in 2021, necessitating continuing large-scale humanitarian assistance,” it said.
The report forecast that more than 142 million people in 40 countries will face food crises, emergencies, or catastrophes this year.
Some 155,000 people are likely to face “catastrophe/famine" through mid-2021 — around 108,000 in South Sudan and 47,000 in Yemen, the report said.
WFP’s Husain said that the most critical needs remain funding and humanitarian access.
As an example, Husain said that providing one daily meal for a year for 34 million people would cost about $5 billion.