By Jaya Ramachandran
ROME (IDN) — A new report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that “life-saving aid” to families on the brink of famine is being cut off in several countries by fighting and blockades.
Of serious concern, says the report, are 23 ‘hunger hotspots’ that over the next four months are expected to face an acute level of food insecurity intensified by the economic repercussions of COVID-19, the climate crisis and fighting.
David Beasley, WFP Executive Director, has alerted: “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.”
Administrative impediments and a lack of funding are also hampering the agencies’ efforts to provide emergency food assistance and enable farmers to plant at scale and at the right time.
He added: “So far, support to agriculture as key means of preventing widespread famine remains largely overlooked by donors. Without such support to agriculture, humanitarian needs will keep skyrocketing.”
The report identifies 23 hotspots: Afghanistan, Angola, Central Africa Republic, Central Sahel, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, El Salvador together with Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone together with Liberia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen.
FAO and WFP have further warned that 41 million people were already at risk of falling into famine. 2020 saw 155 million people facing acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels in 55 countries, according to the Global Report on Food Crises. This is an increase of more than 20 million from 2019, and the trend is only expected to worsen this year.
The report highlights that conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks, often related to the economic fallout of COVID-19, are likely to remain primary drivers of acute food insecurity for the August-November period this year.
Transboundary threats are also an aggravating factor in some regions. In particular, desert locust infestations in the Horn of Africa and African migratory locust swarms in Southern Africa.
Humanitarian access constraints are another severe aggravating factor, increasing the risk of famine.
Countries currently facing the most significant obstacles preventing aid from reaching them include Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Mali, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
“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,” said Mr. Beasley.
The report stresses that Ethiopia and Madagascar are the world’s newest “highest alert” hunger hotspots. Ethiopia faces a devastating food emergency linked to ongoing conflict in the Tigray region.
Reaching those desperately in need remains an enormous challenge, with 401,000 people expected to face catastrophic conditions by September.
This is the highest number in one country since the 2011 famine in Somalia. Meanwhile, in southern Madagascar, 28,000 people are expected to be pushed into famine-like conditions by the end of the year. And this due to the worst drought in 40 years, combined with rising food prices, sandstorms, and pests affecting staple crops.
The new highest alerts issued for Ethiopia and Madagascar add to South Sudan, Yemen, and northern Nigeria, which remain among the acute food insecurity hotspots of greatest global concern. In a few areas, some of these countries are already experiencing famine conditions and significant numbers of people are at risk of falling into famine.
Acute food insecurity is becoming increasingly critical in Afghanistan, where due to ongoing drought, there is rising conflict-driven displacement as well as high food prices and widespread unemployment fuelled by COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the already precarious situation in Haiti threatens to get worse as the country faces likely lower staple crop production due to lack of, or irregular, rainfall. It is also reeling from worsening political instability and food price inflation, and the impacts of COVID-19-related restrictions.
The report warns that humanitarian action is urgently needed to prevent hunger, famine and death in all 23 hotspots.
It provides country-specific recommendations covering both shorter-term emergency responses, as well as anticipatory actions to protect rural livelihoods and increase agricultural production, so at-risk communities can better withstand future shocks. [IDN-InDepthNews — 01 August 2021]
Photo: Drought-stricken Madagascar has been identified as a ‘hunger hotspot’ © UNICEF/Safidy Andriananten
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