THE UNITED NATIONS World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the number of people teetering on the edge of famine (IPC4/Emergency or worse) in 43 countries has risen to 45 million, as acute hunger spikes around the world.
This number has risen from 42 million earlier in the year and 27 million in 2019.

“Tens of millions of people are staring into an abyss. We’ve got conflict, climate change and Covid-19 driving up the numbers of the acutely hungry, and the latest data show there are now more than 45 million people marching towards the brink of starvation”, said WFP Executive Director David Beasley after a trip to Afghanistan, where WFP is ramping up its support to assist almost 23 million people.

“Fuel costs are up, food prices are soaring, fertiliser is more expensive, and all of this feeds into new crises like the one unfolding now in Afghanistan, as well as long-standing emergencies like Yemen and Syria”, he added.

WFP and its humanitarian partners are ramping up efforts to assist millions of people facing starvation. However, the needs are vastly surpassing available resources at a time when traditional funding streams are overstretched. The cost of averting famine globally now stands at US$ 7 billion, up from US$ 6.6 billion earlier in the year.

“As the cost of humanitarian assistance rises exponentially, we need more funds to reach families across the globe who have already exhausted their capacity to cope with extreme hunger”, he added.

Families facing acute food insecurity are also being forced to make devastating choices to cope with the rising hunger. WFP’s vulnerability analysis across the 43 countries shows families being forced to eat less, or skip meals entirely, feeding children over adults, and in some extreme cases being forced to eat locusts, wild leaves, or cactus to survive – as in Madagascar.

In other areas, families are forced to marry off children early or pull them out of school, sell off assets like livestock or what little else they have left. Meanwhile media reports from Afghanistan point to families reportedly being forced to sell their children in a desperate attempt to survive.

Food prices hit a ten-year high this month, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Food Price Index. This not only pushes food out of reach for millions of the poorest around the globe, but it also increases the cost of procuring food on global markets. Added to this are the high prices of fuel which also increases transportation costs and places a further strain on global supply chains – shipping a container cost US$1,000 a year ago, but now costs US$4,000 or more.

This year, WFP has already been undertaking the biggest operation in its history – targeting 139 million people across the 85 countries where it operates. This work covers both emergency food and nutrition needs, as well as work with partners to build resilience and increase the self-reliance of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet.

In Afghanistan, recent assessments show that almost 24 million people have been pushed into acute hunger – including 8.7 million in Emergency IPC4 – as the devastating impact of multiple droughts combine with an economic meltdown to push families to the edge just as the harsh winter sets in. WFP is ramping up its support to assist up to 23 million people and requires an estimated US$ 220 million a month in 2022.

In Ethiopia it was projected that more 4.3 million people across northern Ethiopia would be facing acute hunger by September with more than half of those – 2.2 million – in Emergency IPC4 or worse. As conflict escalates and in the absence of any updated analysis, it is expected that this situation has worsened significantly and up to 7 million people across northern Ethiopia are facing acute hunger. WFP requires US$245 million to respond across all three regions of Afar, Amhara, and Tigray.

In drought-hit southern Madagascar, where climate is driving famine-like conditions, severe hunger has touched over 1.3 million people, including 512,000 in Emergency IPC4 or worse. Delayed rains this planting season signal another poor harvest and despair for families who are resorting to survival measures such as eating locusts, wild leaves and cactus leaves which are usually fed to cattle. WFP is scaling up its response and urgently needs US$69 million over the next six months to reach one million people.

In South Sudan, humanitarian needs are outpacing the resources available for WFP to respond, and the situation has worsened as the country is battered by flooding that has swallowed entire villages. There are 7.2 million people who are severely food insecure (IPC3 or worse) with more than 1.4 million of those in Emergency IPC4 and more than 100,000 facing catastrophic (IPC5) levels of hunger. WFP urgently requires US$568 million to maintain its operations for the next six months and significant funding gaps have already forced ration cuts so resources can be redirected to the most vulnerable people at risk of famine.

In Syria, some 12.4 million people do not know where their next meal will come from – a level of food insecurity higher than any time during the decade-long conflict. Conflict, mass population displacement, the impacts of the financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, the decline in the value of the Syrian Pound and job losses due to Covid-19 have all contributed to Syria’s economic downturn. WFP is only 31 per cent funded and urgently requires nearly US$700 million until February 2022 to continue to support some 5.8 million people who depend on WFP food assistance to survive.

Over half Yemen’s population (16.2 million) is now facing acute hunger with 5 million people facing Emergency IPC4. In addition to the ongoing conflict, the devaluation of the Yemeni riyal and soaring food prices have made it impossible for ordinary Yemenis to afford basic food. WFP provides emergency food assistance – as in-kind rations, vouchers or cash – to nearly 13 million people. But nearly 3 million continue to receive assistance on alternate months due to funding shortfalls and WFP is at risk of running out of food before the end of the year. The organisation needs US$802 million to maintain current levels of assistance for the next six months.

* The IPC Acute Food Insecurity classification provides strategically relevant information to decision makers on severe food insecurity that threatens lives or livelihoods. More information here.

* Source: World Food Programme