Conflict Alerts # 480, 2 February 2022
In the news
On 28 January, the UN World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization released the "Hunger Hotspots. FAO-WFP early warnings on acute food insecurity: February to May 2022 Outlook." The report identifies 20 hotspots that require immediate attention, of which Yemen, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Nigeria are categorized as countries of the highest concern. The report says that populations in the hunger hotspots "are likely to face a significant deterioration of acute food insecurity", and those in countries of highest concerns may face starvation and death.
Of the 20 hotspots, 16 are in Africa; apart from the above three African countries, the other hotspots are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Angola, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Mozambique, and Madagascar. The rest of the hotspots are Haiti, Honduras, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar.
The report identifies the following as the of food insecurity: organized violence and conflict risks, natural hazard risks, economic risks, animal and plant pests and diseases. These risks are further aggravated due to humanitarian access constraints.
Issues at large
First, the issue of global hunger. The FAO has been documenting the problem of hunger since 1974. Despite the number of hunger-stricken people falling, global hunger is nowhere close to being eradicated. In 2020, the FAO estimated that 720 to 811 million people experienced hunger. The number is extremely shocking given that in 2015, UN members pledged to eradicate the problem by 2030, as part of the Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Second, causes of hunger and inadequate humanitarian aid. Apart from the drivers mentioned in the WFP-FAO report, hunger prevails due to poverty, lack of access to healthcare systems, and issues of governance. The problem is also influenced by climate variability and unfavourable conditions to grow crops.
While several local and international organizations attempt to provide assistance and aid, it is inadequate. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation and the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2021 estimates that the total number of people who required assistance had increased to 234 million in 2020. However, during the same period, key funding from the UK, UAE, and Saudi Arabia have reduced, thereby offsetting increased funding by other donors. Meanwhile, humanitarian aid recorded shortfalls even before the pandemic.
Third, Africa as the global hotspot. With 16 hotspots, Africa could be seen as the global hunger hotspot. The problems in Africa are manifold. As the report mentions, organized conflict is a major hindrance to addressing hunger in Africa. Decades-long conflicts and successive governments' role in fueling and prolonging these conflicts have resulted in the current situation. Apart from the governments' role, several rebel groups also control and restrict access to food and other humanitarian resources, leading to the prevailing reality. Meanwhile, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have also pushed several million at risk.
Hunger and famines can have several causes, but it is undeniable that the governments in power and international institutions have a role in letting the problem continue. The shortfalls in aid even before the pandemic implies that global hunger was never a priority for several governments.
On the other hand, humanitarian aid alone is unlikely to solve the issue; the drivers of hunger have to be addressed. This includes proactive measures by governments to end conflicts, instead of maintaining the status quo or aggravating them, ensuring access to clean and safe food, dealing with climate change. If the world continues to ride the current wave, global hunger will not be eradicated for a long time, let alone by 2030.