By Thalif Deen*
NEW YORK (IDN) — A recent joint press release by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had an arresting headline: Famine Relief Blocked by Bullets, Red Tape and Lack of Funding.
But not necessarily in that order.
The food insecurity, which has reached new sky highs, has been triggered by several factors, including military conflicts, civil wars, climate extremes, and most recently a 17-month-old global pandemic shut down.
The 24 hotspots include Afghanistan, Angola, Central Africa Republic, Central Sahel, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen, according to a new joint WFP/FAO report released July 30.
Bureaucratic obstacles as well as a lack of funding also hamper the two UN agencies’ efforts to provide emergency food assistance and enable farmers to plant at scale and at the right time.
In southern Madagascar, people are starving, surviving on locusts, cactus leaves and even mud, as consecutive years of drought have wiped out harvests, hampering people’s access to food. This is the first country in the world that is experiencing famine-like conditions as a result of the climate crisis, according to the report.
WFP’s Executive Director David Beasley describes the dire situation as “something you see in a horror movie”.
The corona virus pandemic, which has accelerated with the recent spread of the new Delta variant, has also undermined the UN’s goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2030.
Addressing the pre-food summit in Rome on July 26, Secretary-General António Guterres warned: “Today, we are reminded that we are tremendously off track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030”.
“New, tragic data informs us that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020—as many as 161 million more than in 2019. High costs, coupled with persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality, continue to keep healthy diets out of reach for around three billion people, in every region of the world.
“Hunger has been on the rise for several years and, now, in 2021, we are failing to provide what is a fundamental right for people around the world,” he noted.
And COVID-19 has made things worse, and made clear the linkage between inequality, poverty, food and disease. Despite a 300 per cent increase in global food production since the mid-1960s, malnutrition is a leading factor contributing to reduced life expectancy.
Danielle Nierenberg, President and Founder of Food Tank, told IDN there’s a perfect storm of events leading to severe insecurity and the threat of famine in areas of the world least prepared to handle it.
“Whether it’s the climate crisis, conflict, or COVID-19, poor farmers in the Global South are suffering the most–and governments, aid agencies, and research institutions around the globe need to step up to prevent an even worse humanitarian crisis,” she said.
And it’s not just food aid that’s needed, Nierenberg argued, but capacity building and sharing of expertise between and among nations.
“The urgency is too great to continue to ignore these problems–we need to act now”, she warned.
Emily Farr, Oxfam’s Emergency Food Security and Vulnerable Livelihoods Advisor, warned that hunger and malnutrition are not about lack of food but lack of equality.
“While we watch billionaires compete in a modern-day space race, millions are going to bed hungry, and an estimated 11 people are dying from hunger every minute,” she said.
In a statement released July 30, FAO and WFP warned that 41 million people were at risk of falling into famine unless they received immediate food and livelihood assistance.
2020 saw 155 million people facing acute food insecurity at Crisis or worse levels in 55 countries (IPC/CH Phases 3 or worse) according to the Global Report on Food Crises, an increase of more than 20 million from 2019—and the trend is only expected to worsen this year.
“The vast majority of those on the verge are farmers. Alongside food assistance, we must do all we can to help them resume food production themselves, so that families and communities can move back towards self-sufficiency and not just depend on aid to survive,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.
“That’s difficult without access, and without adequate funding—and so far, support to agriculture as key means of preventing widespread famine remains largely overlooked by donors, unfortunately. Without such support to agriculture, humanitarian needs will keep skyrocketing, that’s inevitable,” he added.
“Families that rely on humanitarian assistance to survive are hanging by a thread. When we cannot reach them that thread is cut, and the consequences are nothing short of catastrophic,” warned WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
“The road to Zero Hunger isn’t paved with conflict, checkpoints and red tape. Humanitarian access isn’t some abstract concept—it means authorities approving paperwork in time so that food can be moved swiftly, it means checkpoints allow trucks to pass and reach their destination, it means humanitarian responders are not targeted, so they are able to carry out their life- and livelihood-saving work,” noted Beasley. [IDN-InDepthNews — 03 August 2021]
*Thalif Deen is a Sri Lankan-American journalist whose track record includes deputy news editor of the Sri Lanka Daily News, senior editorial writer on the Hong Kong Standard and a longstanding UN correspondent for the Sri Lanka Sunday Times, Asiaweek, Hong Kong and Jane’s Defence Weekly, London. He is co-author of the 1981 book on “How to Survive a Nuclear Disaster” and author of the recently-published satire on the United Nations titled “No Comment – and Don’t Quote me on That,” both of which are available on Amazon.
Photo: A mother waits to receive food for her child in drought-affected southern Madagascar. © WFP/Fenoarisoa Ralaiharinony
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