Some 124 million people in 51 countries were affected by famine during 2017 - 11 million more people than the year before - according to a new United Nations report that sounds the alarm regarding surging levels of acute hunger.
The increase in hunger is largely attributable to new or intensified conflict and insecurity in Yemen, Myanmar, north-east Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, according to the latest Global Report on Food Crises.
“We must acknowledge and address the link between hunger and conflict if we are to achieve zero hunger. Investing in food security and livelihood in conflict situations saves lives, strengthens resilience and can also contribute to sustaining peace,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.
Prolonged drought conditions also resulted in consecutive poor harvests in countries already facing high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition in eastern and southern Africa, the report found. It defines acute food insecurity as hunger so severe that it poses an immediate threat to lives or livelihoods.
“Reports such as this gives us the vital data and analysis to better understand the challenge. It is now up to us to take action to meet the needs of those facing the daily scourge of hunger and to tackle its root causes,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a video message.
The report was presented by the European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) at a briefing for UN member nations in Rome.
It finds that food crises are increasingly determined by complex causes such as conflict, extreme climatic shocks and high prices of staple food often acting at the same time.
The situation revealed by the Global Report highlights the urgent need for simultaneous action to save lives, livelihoods and to address the root causes of food crises, the partners said.
Conflict continued to be the main driver of acute food insecurity in 18 countries — 15 of them in Africa or the Middle East. It is the primary reason for most of the world's cases of acute food insecurity, accounting for 60 percent of the global total, or 74 million people.
Climate disasters — mainly drought — were also major triggers of food crises in 23 countries, two-thirds of them in Africa, and were responsible for pushing some 39 million people into acute food insecurity, said the report.
Entire communities and more children and women are in need of nutritional support compared to last year, and long lasting solutions are needed to reverse this trend, according to the report.
Conflict will likely remain a major cause of food crises in 2018, affecting Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, north-eastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen as well as Libya and the central Sahel (Mali and Niger), the report warned.
War-wracked Yemen will mostly likely continue to be the largest food crisis by far. The situation there is expected to deteriorate, particularly because of restricted access, economic collapse and outbreaks of disease.
Meanwhile, the impact of severe dry weather on crop and livestock production is likely to worsen hunger in pastoral areas of Somalia, south-eastern Ethiopia and eastern Kenya, and in West African and Sahel countries including Senegal, Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, the report predicted.
“The consequences of conflict and climate change are stark: millions of more people severely, even desperately, hungry. The fighting must stop now and the world must come together to avert these crises often happening right in front of our eyes," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.
Besides delivering vital humanitarian aid, development action needs to engage much earlier so as to tackle the underlying causes of extreme vulnerability to food scarcity and building resilience, the report argues.
“Food crises are likely to become more acute, persistent and complex given current trends and their root causes with devastating effects on the lives of millions of people," said Neven Mimica, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development.
"We succeeded in producing a joint analysis globally with the annual Global Report on Food Crises. I am fully committed to take this approach forward as I am convinced that increased global dialogue, joint planning and coordinated responses will enable the EU, its partner countries as well as international partners to address better the root causes of food crises,” Mimica added.