Fighting famine: how the global community can take action
Famine threatens the lives of 34 million people and time is running out to act on what is an avoidable catastrophe. The G7 has a responsibility to be a catalyst for action
It is unthinkable in the 21st century that anyone should lose their life to famine – and yet this is exactly the fate that threatens to overwhelm 34 million people today. The window of opportunity to avoid this tragic reality is closing in fast and failure to act will leave an indelible stain on humanity.
Consequently, when leaders of the G7 members gather in the United Kingdom for their first in-person summit in two years, their responsibility to lead the global effort to combat the clear and present danger of famine should be uppermost in their minds.
The terrifying scale of the threat was revealed in May, when the World Food Programme and our partners published the 2021 Global Report on Food Crises. To put the 34 million total in context, it is only slightly less than the entire population of Canada. Just imagine standing by and watching an entire country starve to death. It is unconscionable.
As well as identifying the number of people teetering on the brink of famine, the report also highlights the widespread nature of the peril. Nine countries each have at least one million people living in this desperate situation: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen.
The Central African Republic, Honduras, Uganda and Zimbabwe are each home to at least half a million people vulnerable to starvation.
This analysis tells us that the world could soon bear witness to famines in multiple countries spanning three continents: a truly unprecedented catastrophe.
It also lays bare another brutal truth, which is that starvation and famine are human-made. Almost all the countries in danger of slipping into famine are wracked by armed violence.
Conflict drives hunger, and hunger drives conflict. Instability and violence combine with economic crisis to destroy the systems that produce, manage and distribute food to civilian populations. The result is widespread hunger, malnutrition and, in the worst cases, famine.
I have witnessed the heart-breaking impact of this destructive cycle for myself, time after time. On recent visits to Yemen, the DRC and South Sudan, I met families and children who are starving because they are caught in the cross-fire.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
The link between hunger and conflict is beyond doubt – the question is how do we break it, once and for all? To succeed, we need a three-pronged approach.
First, we need concerted action by the international community to end the rising number of conflicts around the world. The United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 2417 is an important step towards seeking political solutions. But now the international community needs to live up to the values it enshrines. The G7 summit is an opportunity for members to show political leadership here.
Second, we have to make the right investments, at the right time. In the short term, $5 billion is urgently needed to stave off famine in multiple countries. It’s unacceptable in the modern age that 34 million people are one step away from starvation and death – the world has to act now.
Longer term, we must also invest in health, education and sustainable livelihood programmes. They are the best way to offer vulnerable communities the chance to build resilience and protect themselves against future food insecurity. It is critical to help lay the foundations to build greater stability and social cohesion.
Third, we must work with governments to strengthen national frameworks to ensure that all communities, no matter who they are or where they live, have equal access to nutritious foods. This is fundamental to any successful strategy to reduce social tensions and promote peace.
WFP and our partners stand ready to work with the G7 and all other countries to avert the famines now looming across the world.
We have unrivalled deep-field presence, innovative tracking and analytical technologies, and a global logistics and supply chain to ensure life-saving assistance gets where it is needed most. We can mobilise rapid response teams to reach inaccessible communities, get front-line workers on the ground within hours, and target food and cash assistance to the people in greatest need anywhere.
But we cannot do any of this life-saving, life-changing work unless our donors, who have been so generous in the past, come forward with the funds so urgently needed now.
Famine has no place in the 21st century. In partnership with the G7 leaders, we still have a chance to banish it to the history books. But we have no more time to lose.