A tsunami of hunger
Without coordinated action, the world faces a global hunger crisis never before seen in our lifetimes – and when the G20 leaders meet in Bali, they have a critical opportunity to rally the commitment and resources required to respond
When world leaders gather for the G20 summit, hosted by Indonesia in Bali in November, one of their most urgent tasks will be to stop the current food pricing crisis from spiralling into a much more dangerous food availability crisis in 2023.
The roots of the current global hunger emergency are complex and fed variously by conflict, climate change, the continuing economic ripple effects of Covid-19 and now, most recently, the war in Ukraine.
Put simply, the world is facing a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented magnitude, with the threat of mass starvation and famine growing all the time. Global grain, fuel and fertiliser shortages sparked by the Ukraine conflict have left many already-vulnerable families in middle- and lower-income countries no longer able to cope, after exhausting the meagre resources they have at their disposal. The result is food insecurity, malnutrition and despair on an unimaginable scale.
What was a wave of hunger is now a tsunami of hunger. The World Food Programme’s latest analysis has found that, currently, 345 million people are acutely food insecure – in other words, they are marching towards starvation. This is a record high and more than 2.5 times the 135 million people who were living with acute food insecurity before the pandemic began.
Close to famine
Among this 345 million, there are some 50 million people living in 45 countries in even graver danger – they are just one step from famine. Most worrying of all, there are now 970,000 people living in what are essentially famine conditions – over 300,000 in Somalia alone, and the rest in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen. Although the technical criteria have not yet been reached for famines to be declared, it is undoubtedly only a matter of time before these thresholds are crossed in the months ahead.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative – the United Nations–brokered deal that is enabling some Ukrainian wheat and grain to re-enter export markets – and ongoing efforts to reintegrate Russian-produced fertilisers into global supply chains are welcome. But by themselves they are not enough to reverse the soaring worldwide food, fuel and fertiliser prices that threaten to slash the crop yields of smallholder farmers everywhere.
An urgent and coordinated response is required from the international community to address the worrying picture of falling food production and rising hunger unfolding across much of Africa, Asia and the Americas. We have a choice to make: act now to save lives and invest in solutions that support food security, stability and peace, or see famines, increased social instability and strife, and mass migration grow and spread.
WFP is mobilising all available resources to get life-saving help wherever it is needed most, scaling up our direct food and nutrition assistance to prevent famine. And this year we aim to reach 153 million people – the highest number in our 60-year history.
The human cost
But, tragically, our focus on staving off famine comes at a human cost. As humanitarian needs far outstrip the financial resources available, we are being forced to take food from the hungry to feed the starving.
All over the world, funding shortfalls for our operations mean that WFP country teams are having to make the agonising decision to cut food rations and cash assistance to some hungry families to prioritise those in gravest danger. It is happening in Afghanistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen – the list goes on.
A coordinated effort across governments, international financial institutions, the private sector and civil society is the only way to avoid an even more deadly global hunger crisis in 2023, driven by lower food production and shortages of basic foodstuffs. Against this backdrop, it is vital that when the G20 members meet in Indonesia they rally the commitment and resources required to avert mass starvation.
In the short term, this means adequately funding famine-prevention and humanitarian programmes to ensure the most vulnerable communities receive the support needed to get through the storm. This must be coupled with investment in agricultural support programmes so smallholder farmers can access essential inputs such as fertilisers and seeds, shoring up food production during this volatile period.
In the longer term, it means investing in programmes that foster sustainable economic development so vulnerable communities are more self-sufficient and better able to withstand future food security shocks.
Time in short supply
We are fast running out of time to stop the global food crisis from spinning out of control – but the G20’s Bali Summit is a critical opportunity to act before it is too late for millions of the world’s hungry people. We must not let it go to waste.