Record high levels of food insecurity in 2021: UN report on world hunger

Seed distribution in Northern Bari Payam, South Sudan. (Credit: FAO/Mayak Akuot)

Around 193 million people faced hunger in 2021, and the situation is already forecasted to worsen this year, a report on world hunger warned on Wednesday.

Impact of the ongoing war in Ukraine, a global producer of wheat, cereals and other agricultural products, and the consequences of Covid-19 are expected to trigger a global economic slowdown, further deteriorating situations where people already have trouble accessing food.

Produced annually by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme, the European Union, and other humanitarian actors, the Global Report on Food Crises monitors food crisis hit countries.

With the onslaught of crises last year, the need for urgent food assistance and livelihood support has grown at an alarming rate, pushing over 40 million more people into food insecurity compared to 2020. Overall, in 2021 around 193 million people were in crisis or worse situations, an 80 per cent increase since 2016, the report stated.

The main driver of the worsening crisis remains increased conflicts around the world. Though the report predates the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it highlights the role of war in exposing food supply chains as well as large sections of populations to vulnerabilities.

In Ethiopia, South Sudan and Yemen, three countries with populations facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity, prolonged conflicts and insecurity were the primary drivers of the issue.

Other leading causes are extreme and unpredictable weather patterns, and compounding economic shocks from the fall out of the pandemic and subsequent supply chain issues.

Weather extremes were one of the main causes of food insecurity in 29 of the 53 countries or territories examined in the report, particularly in Africa and Eurasia, where severe shocks such as drought, cyclones, and floods, have had grave impacts on agriculture.

Moreover, in 21 countries more than 30 million people faced food insecurity primarily because of the economic crisis, including in Pakistan and Haiti, two of the largest populations facing this crisis.

The number of countries suffering hunger due to economic shocks has doubled from 2019 as the impacts of Covid-19, rising food and fuel prices, and contracting incomes are layered on top of each other.

The authors called for the international community to address the root causes of global hunger, rather than simply attempting to meet the needs of emergencies as they occur around the world. In regions where the magnitude and the severity of the food crises exceed the local government’s ability to produce food and feed the people, international mobilisation is sorely necessary, they said.

“Together, we can build a safer, more resilient and inclusive world – and banish the scourge of famine and starvation once and for all. But we must act now,” wrote António Guterres, UN secretary-general in the foreword of the report.