Food insecurity continues to be a global challenge. Increasing population, rising incomes, changing diets, falling water tables, more foodless days, slowing irrigation, increasing soil erosion, climate change and melting water reserves have all contributed to food insecurity. These are particularly so in rising economies.
At a time when the quantity of food produced worldwide is sufficient to feed all, the number of food–insecure people, paradoxically, remains high. Much progress has been made in reducing hunger and poverty and improving food security and nutrition. Gains in productivity and technological advances have contributed to more efficient resource use and improved food safety. But major concerns persist.
The latest Global Report on Food Crises says that 113 million people in 53 countries experienced food insecurity in the world’s most severe food crises in 2018. Moreover, an additional 143 million people in another 42 countries are just one step away from facing acute hunger, the report points out. Another 29 million people were pushed into acute food insecurity in 2018 due to climate and natural disasters.
The report provides a snapshot of the world’s most severe food emergencies. Nearly two-thirds of those facing acute hunger were concentrated in just eight (8) countries–Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It finds that acute hunger has either remained the same or increased in 17 countries.
More than half of the world’s total of acutely food-insecure people as per the report live in Africa. East Africa had the highest number of acutely food-insecure people, followed by Southern Africa and West Africa and the Sahel. The seven Middle-Eastern countries or territories accounted for 24 percent of the global total. Four countries in South and South-East Asia (Myanmar, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan) accounted for 13 percent. The remaining five percent were in Ukraine, Latin America and the Caribbean.
The report was presented this week in Brussels jointly by the European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
The key drivers for the food insecurity crisis include climate-related disasters, economic turbulence, instability, conflict and displacement. These factors continued to erode livelihoods and destroy lives. Economic shocks were the primary driver of acute food insecurity, mainly in Burundi, the Sudan and Zimbabwe.
In its forecast for 2019 on Food Insecurity and Malnutrition, the report says that conflict and insecurity are likely to remain the primary drivers of food security crises. Conflict, local insecurity, or political volatility can result in economic instability or severe growth slowdowns, the statement says.
Weather shocks are expected to have a severe impact on agricultural and livestock production in several regions of the world in 2019, and consequently on food security. These situations can manifest in reduced living standards, sharp currency depreciations and limitations in the capacity of governments to respond effectively to food crises, the report cautions.
Amidst this gloomy outlook, is there a way forward? For a resilient, stable and hunger-free world, the report states that it is important to end conflicts, empower women, nourish and educate children, improve rural infrastructure and reinforce social safety-nets. Further, investments in conflict prevention and sustaining peace will save lives and livelihoods, reduce structural vulnerabilities and address the root causes of hunger, it ends on a positive note.
As food crises become more acute and complex, it is essential to find innovative ways to tackle and prevent them from happening. The report highlights the need for a unified approach and action across the humanitarian and development dimensions of food crises. The report’s findings are a powerful call for strengthened cooperation that links together prevention, preparedness and response to address urgent humanitarian needs and root causes.
The Director General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva, said, “We must act at scale across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus to build the resilience of affected and vulnerable populations. To save lives, we also have to save livelihoods.”
Script: K V Venkatasubramanian , Senior Journalist