Conflict and climate crisis have pushed global food insecurity to record high, UN warns

Published today (4 May), the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises reveals that 193 million people were experiencing food insecurity at a ‘crisis’ level or worse in 2021 – up from 154 million in 2020. It calls the year-on-year increase in the number of people affected “unabated”.

Those classed as being in this category face the loss of their livelihoods, starvation and death. They are spread across 53 countries and territories, with the Middle East and Africa being the worst-affected regions. Among the 35 countries and regions classed as currently undergoing ‘major’ food crises are Ethiopia, Madagascar, Yemen, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Chad, Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Pakistan, Palestine and Zimbabwe.

The report concludes that conflict is the main driver of food insecurity. 99 million people were classed as experiencing food insecurity at a ‘crisis’ level or worse in 2020, due to conflict, and that number had risen to 139 million by the end of 2021. With Russia’s war in Ukraine showing no sign of stopping, this figure is likely to rise significantly again in 2022. Ukraine and Russia collectively account for more than one-quarter of the world’s wheat exports and more than 80% of global sunflower oil exports.

The second-biggest driver of food insecurity, the report concludes, is economic shocks. Economic shocks resulted in 40 million people suffering from food insecurity in 2020, falling to around 30 million in 2021.

Weather extremes driven by the climate crisis are named in the report as the third biggest driver of food insecurity. Extreme-weather-related cases of food insecurity rose to 23 million people in 2021 from 15.7 million people in 2020. The summer of 2021 was unprecedented for extreme weather events globally. Every region in the Northern Hemisphere experienced record temperatures during the season.

The report emphasises that all three main drivers “feed into one another”, “with poverty and social inequality as the underlying causes”. The report comes from the Global Network Against Food Crises, which comprises the UN, the EU and a range of governmental agencies and NGOs across the world.

A joint statement to mark the release of the report reads: “The situation calls out for at-scale action to move towards integrated approaches to prevention, anticipation, and better targeting to sustainably address the root causes of food crises, including structural rural poverty, marginalization, population growth and fragile food systems.”

Last month, the UN issued its second Global Land Outlook, which also provided some stark warnings on food security. The Outlook revealed that humans have changed 70% of all land globally, with 40% of land globally now classed as degraded. The Global South is more acutely affected than the Global North.

Unless action is taken to protect and restore land at scale, the report warns, half of global GDP – $44trn – will be at risk by 2050.

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