The global fight to end hunger is “dangerously off track” due to a “toxic cocktail” of the climate crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, and increasingly severe and protracted conflicts, new projections have revealed.
According to the 2021 Global Hunger Index (GHI) published on Thursday, the UN sustainable development goal of zero hunger by 2030 is “tragically distant”, with already slow progress having shown signs of stagnating or even being reversed in recent years.
Forty seven countries will fail to achieve even low levels of hunger – meaning countries have adequate food and low child mortality rates – and millions of people will experience severe hunger in the coming years.
The index shows violent conflicts to be the leading cause of food crises. Of the 155 million people throughout the world currently acutely food insecure, 99.1 million live in conflict-hit regions.
The findings follow warnings from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) that a 2°C rise in average global temperature from pre-industrial levels will result in 189 million more people going hungry, with vulnerable populations who contribute least to the climate crisis bearing the brunt.
Progress reversed. Global hunger levels have been declining since 2000, but escalating conflict and the impact of climate change coupled with the health, social and economic consequences of Covid-19 are threatening to wipe out gains.
The GHI, which is a tool developed by NGO Concern Worldwide and German humanitarian aid agency Welthungerhilfe, calculates a country or region’s hunger score based on four indicators – undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality rates.
Sub-Saharan African and south Asia have the highest levels of hunger, with high levels of undernourishment in sub-Saharan Africa and particularly high levels of child wasting in south Asia.
Countries are ranked on a 100 point scale, with a score of 50 or above classified as “extremely alarming”. Somalia is the only country out of 135 to be ranked in this category, while five countries have “alarming” levels of hunger; Chad, Central African Republic, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.
Syria, Burundi, Comoros and South Sudan are also provisionally categorised as “alarming” although data for these countries is inadequate. Conflict is a major driver of hunger in eight out of the 10 countries with hunger levels classified as alarming or extremely alarming.
“We have learned in the past few years that human progress is not inevitable,” said Concern’s chief executive Dominic MacSorley and Welthungerhilfe secretary general Mathias Mogge. Concern and Welthungerhilfe are part of Alliance 2015, a partnership of eight EU humanitarian and development NGOs including Geneva-based Helvetas, which has been similarly engaged in the fight against hunger.
“The combination of climate change, Covid-19, and conflict is taking us back to a world we thought we had left behind. Extreme poverty has risen for the first time in 20 years, and the number of people affected by, and at risk of, famine is increasing once more.”
“Large swathes of the globe, from Madagascar to Honduras to Bangladesh, are in the throes of a climate crisis that is now a daily reality for millions,” said WFP chief executive David Beasley in a statement. “The climate crisis is fuelling a food crisis.”
WFP said tens of thousands of lives are at risk in southern Madagascar, where famine-like conditions have been driven by temperature rises and extreme weather caused by climate change. Consecutive droughts have pushed over one million people into severe hunger, with the number expected to double by the end of the year.
“If this is the new normal, we can’t keep lurching from disaster to disaster. We need to go beyond just picking up the pieces after the crisis hits, and instead manage climate risks so they no longer have the power to destroy the food security of vulnerable communities,” said Beasley.