The number of people facing acute food insecurity and requiring urgent life-saving food assistance and livelihood support continues to grow at an alarming rate, which makes it more urgent than ever to tackle the root causes of food crises rather than just responding after they occur, according to an annual report by the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) – an international alliance of the United Nations, the European Union, governmental and non-governmental agencies working to tackle food crises.
The document reveals that around 193 million people in 53 countries or territories experienced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels in 2021. This represents an increase of nearly 40 million people compared with the already record numbers of 2020.
Of these, over half a million people (570 000) in Ethiopia, southern Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen were classified in the most severe phase of acute food insecurity Catastrophe and required urgent action to avert widespread collapse of livelihoods, starvation and death.
When looking at the same 39 countries or territories featured in all editions of the report, the number of people facing crisis or worse nearly doubled between 2016 and 2021, with unabated rises each year since 2018.
The root causes of food crises
These worrying trends are the result of multiple drivers feeding into one another, ranging from conflict to environmental and climate crises, from economic to health crises with poverty and inequality as undelaying causes.
Conflict remains the main driver of food insecurity. While the analysis predates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the report finds that the war has already exposed the interconnected nature and fragility of global food systems, with serious consequences for global food and nutrition security. Countries already coping with high levels of acute hunger are particularly vulnerable to the risks created by the war in Eastern Europe, notably due to their high dependency on imports of food and agricultural inputs and vulnerability to global food price shocks, it notes.
The key drivers behind rising acute food insecurity in 2021, according to the report, were:
- conflict (main driver pushing 139 million people in 24 countries/territories into acute food insecurity, up from around 99 million in 23 countries/territories in in 2020);
- weather extremes (over 23 million people in 8 countries/territories, up from 15.7 million in 15 countries/territories);
- economic shocks – (over 30 million people in 21 countries/territories, down from over 40 million people in 17 countries/territories in 2020 mainly due to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic).