One person dying of hunger every four seconds, NGOs warn

Somalis who have fled drought-stricken areas receive food rations at a displacement camp in Mogadishu, Somalia. (Keystone/AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

One person is estimated to be dying of hunger every four seconds as a “deadly mix” of conflict, climate change and economic shocks send food insecurity skyrocketing, a group of over 200 NGOs warned on Tuesday.

In an open letter to world leaders as they meet in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, organisations from over 75 countries warned that the number of people facing acute hunger has more than doubled since 2019, reaching 435 million around the world.

Some 50 million people are on the brink of starvation in 45 countries, while Somalia teeters on the brink of famine, with the UN warning this month of “concrete indications” that famine would occur in some regions of the country in the coming months unless aid efforts were significantly stepped up.

The organisations accused world leaders of failing to do more to address the crisis and called for urgent action as senior officials prepared to meet for the Global Food Security Summit, held on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

“The international community and national governments are failing to meet their duty and have prioritised political and economic interests over the wellbeing of the world’s most vulnerable children, families and communities,” the organisations said.

“While political leaders have made many promises, in the cities, towns, villages, and refugee and internal displacement camps where millions of lives hang in the balance, far too little has changed.

“In a world of plenty, leaving people to starve is a policy choice.”

The group, which included Action Against Hunger and Save the Children, said a “deadly mix of conflict, climate change, rising costs and economic crises” were fuelling the global food crisis.

Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine were further exacerbating the crisis, they said, pushing up food prices and plunging millions of people in the most fragile contexts into disaster, with Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia some of the countries hit hardest.

Mohanna Eljabaly from the Yemeni Family Care Association, one of the signatories of the letter, said: “It is abysmal that with all the technology in agriculture and harvesting techniques today we are still talking about famine in the 21st century.

“This is not about one country or one continent and hunger never only has one cause. This is about the injustice of the whole of humanity. It is extremely difficult to see people suffering while others sharing the same planet have plenty of food.”

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Eljabaly said a record 19 million people are now in need of food assistance in Yemen, while 2.2 million children are projected to be malnourished.

She said a lack of funding made it difficult for organisations to execute humanitarian response plans and called on officials meeting in New York to take “realistic firm actions” towards addressing the hunger crisis.

“We must not wait a moment longer to focus both on providing immediate lifesaving food and longer-term support so people can take charge of their futures and provide for themselves and their families,” she said.

The group of organisations urged world leaders to immediately step up funding to help the 50 million people facing starvation while also taking action to prevent and prepare for future crises and build resilience in the most vulnerable communities.

“It’s true that hunger has won a battle but the war is still there to be won,” said Eljabaly. “People in many suffering countries are betting on humanity to come together and defeat it, as there is nothing else for them to bet on.”