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Global Report on Food Crises, a new report on famine around the world, says starvation is ravaging 53 countries. This is mostly due to conflict and climate shocks. In some places, like Yemen, the crisis is almost entirely man-made.

Some 113 million people in 53 countries, the majority of them in Africa, faced chronic food shortages last year. Another 143 million people in 42 countries were living in “stressed conditions, on the cusp of acute hunger.”

The Food Security Information Network’s report, in short, GRFC, released on April 2, 2019 cites a Syrian refugee:

“I can describe the horrors of what it was like to live under siege… but to describe how it feels to be hungry? On day one, it is bad, and on day two you start to think, ‘what can I do about this?’ Beyond that I will not say”.

Key findings of the report:

  • More than 113 million people across 53 countries experienced acute hunger requiring urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance in 2018.
  • The worst food crises in 2018, in order of severity, were: Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Sudan, South Sudan and north Nigeria. These eight countries accounted for two thirds of the total number of people facing acute food insecurity – amounting to nearly 72 million people.
  • Countries in Africa remained disproportionally affected by food insecurity.
  • The figure of 113 million people represents a slight improvement over the number for 2017 presented in last year’s report, in which an estimated 124 million people in 51 countries faced acute hunger.
  • Despite the slight decrease, over the past three years, the report has consistently shown that, year on year, more than 100 million people (2016, 2017 and 2018) have faced periods of acute hunger.
  • The modest decrease between 2017 and 2018 is largely attributed to changes in climate shocks. A number of highly exposed countries did not experience the intensity of climate-related shocks and stressors that they had experienced in 2017 when they variously faced severe drought, flooding, erratic rains and temperature rises brought on by the El Niño of 2015-16. These include countries in southern and eastern Africa, the Horn of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific region.
  • An additional 143 million people in a subset of 42 countries were found to be living in stressed conditions on the cusp of acute hunger. They risked slipping into crisis or worse if faced with a shock or stressor.
  • High levels of acute and chronic malnutrition in children living in emergency conditions remained of grave concern. The immediate drivers of under-nutrition include poor dietary intake and disease. Mothers and caregivers often face challenges in providing children with the key micronutrients they need at critical growth periods in food crises. This is reflected in the dismally low number of children consuming a minimum acceptable diet in most of the countries profiled in this report.

Primary drivers of the crisis

The report identifies primary drivers of the crisis:

  • Conflict and insecurity, climate shocks and economic turbulence – the main drivers of food insecurity – continued to erode livelihoods and destroy lives.
  • Conflict and insecurity remained the key driver in 2018. Some 74 million people – two thirds of those facing acute hunger – were located in 21 countries and territories affected by conflict or insecurity. Around 33 million of these people were in 10 countries in Africa; over 27 million were in seven countries and territories in West Asia/Middle East; 13 million were in three countries in South/South-east Asia and 1.1 million in Eastern Europe.
  • Climate and natural disasters pushed another 29 million people into situations of acute food insecurity in 2018. As in previous years, most of these individuals were in Africa, where nearly 23 million people in 20 countries were acutely food insecure primarily due to climate shocks.
  • Economic shocks were the primary driver of acute food insecurity for 10.2 million people, mainly in Burundi, the Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Increased humanitarian aid

According to the report, the increasing global spending on humanitarian aid reflects the growing problem, which rose from $18.4 billion in 2013 to $27.3 billion in 2017.

Despite the rise in aid, the report claims: “humanitarian assistance does not address the root causes of food crises.”

The report cites the Afghanistan-drought: A drought in Afghanistan dropped food production to its lowest level since 2011.

It says: Dry weather hammered agricultural output in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Adverse weather conditions coupled with economic shocks were also responsible for much misery in Africa and South America.

The Yemen-scenario

More than half of Yemen’s population was in “urgent need” of humanitarian assistance late last year, with two million children under five acutely malnourished. Only 15 percent of children there received the minimum acceptable diet for growth and development.

Yemen’s civil war, ongoing since 2015, pits Iranian-backed Houthi rebels against the government of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Hadi is supported by a coalition of Arab and Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which is backed by US intelligence and logistical support. The coalition bombing campaign has left almost 18,000 civilians dead, according to the Yemen Data Project.

Western powers have come under increasing pressure to halt weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in light of the mounting death toll, with the targeting of a bus full of schoolchildren last August triggering an international outcry.

The Saudi land, sea, and air blockade of Yemen has resulted in shortages of food, medicine, and clean water in what is already the Arab world’s poorest country.

Rather than throwing more aid at the problem, the report recommends fighting hunger at its cause.

Co-existence of primary drivers

The report cautions: While the GRFC gives a clear idea of the number of acutely food-insecure people by each of the three primary drivers, it must be emphasized that these drivers often co-exist or reinforce each other.

The report says: Last year’s GRFC found there were 74 million people in 18 conflict-affected areas experiencing acute food insecurity in 2017. Conflict remained the number one driver of acute food insecurity in 2018. This year’s report shows that in 2018 again 74 million people – this time in 21 conflict-afflicted countries and territories – were in Crisis or worse.

It says: As conflicts become more protracted the resilience and coping capacities of the people caught up in them is eroded. Intensified conflict and insecurity in Afghanistan as well as in Yemen, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, either worsened or kept acute food insecurity at similar levels to the previous year, demonstrating the persistent and destructive link between conflict and hunger. High levels of acute food insecurity persisted in other key conflict-affected countries/territories including the Syrian Arab Republic, Lake Chad Basin and Somalia.

The report says: In conflict, civilians are frequently pushed into acute food insecurity when they are displaced and deprived of their income sources. Food systems and markets are disrupted, pushing up food prices and sometimes leading to scarcities of water and fuel, or of food itself.

Landmines and explosives

The report says:

Landmines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices often destroy agricultural land, mills, storage facilities, machinery etc. Conflict prevents businesses from operating and weakens the national economy, reducing employment opportunities and increasing poverty levels. It undermines and sometimes destroys health and public distribution systems leaving people reliant on humanitarian support – yet insecurity and unserviceable roads can prevent humanitarian convoys from reaching them.

Armed conflict and women and children

The report says:

Armed conflict has particular impact on women and children, including as refugees and IDPs [internally displaced persons], and on people with vulnerabilities including those with disabilities and the elderly.

Against this backdrop, in 2018 the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed Resolution 2417, which provides a framework to address conflict-induced hunger by allowing the Council to consider its full range of tools — including sanctions — to ensure that all parties to conflict uphold International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Violations of IHL include starving civilians as a weapon of war, unlawfully denying humanitarian access to civilian populations in need and depriving people of their means to produce food.

However, new conflicts are emerging and finding sustainable political resolutions to ongoing crises is becoming increasingly difficult.

The UN has not yet sanctioned Saudi Arabia for its role in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. However, the U.S. Senate voted last month to block further U.S. involvement in the war. But President Trump has vowed to veto the bill.

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