The number of people starving worldwide has risen by 150 million since the start of the Covid pandemic, the United Nations said, warning that the food crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could push the worst-hit countries into famine.
Globally, the number of people suffering from chronic malnutrition rose to as many as 828 million last year, an increase of about 46 million from the previous year, and three times that since the world was shut down due to Covid, a report says .
However, as fuel, staple food and fertilizer prices have skyrocketed since the invasion of Ukraine, that total is expected to rise even further over the next year – a scenario that could send some of the world’s poorest into the most extreme Form of famine advised by food deprivation.
“There is a real risk that these numbers will only increase in the coming months,” said David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). “Global food, fuel and fertilizer price spikes resulting from the crisis in Ukraine threaten to plunge countries around the world into starvation.
“The result will be global destabilization, hunger and mass migration on an unprecedented scale,” he warned. “We must act today to avert this impending catastrophe.”
Due to the uncertainty caused by the ongoing effects of the Covid shutdowns, the report released on Wednesday cannot give an exact figure for the number of people starving in 2021, but estimates the total to be between 702 million and 828 million. In the latter case, that would correspond to around 10.5% of the world’s population.
An estimated 45 million children under the age of five suffer from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition that increases the risk of child death by up to 12 times, the report said. About 149 million children under the age of five have had growth and developmental delays due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients.
Gilbert Houngbo, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said chronic malnutrition was projected to hit almost 670 million people by 2030 – a similar number to 2015, when the UN pledged to end hunger by 2030 eradicate as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.
“[It] means that all efforts over those 15 years have been undone by the various crises the world is going through,” he told the Guardian.
Houngbo, a former prime minister of Togo, agreed that there was a clear risk of starvation in some countries, but added, “I want to think we still have time not to get there.”
The only “silver lining” of the Ukraine crisis, he added, is that the world has been forced to watch for vulnerabilities in the global food system.
He called on the international community to “seize the moment” and make “a decisive shift” in agricultural policies, saying “investing in resilience is the real answer.” Should there be a famine, the distribution of food could be inevitable.
“But for God’s sake, food aid is not the solution,” he added. “And if we invest in the resilience of local producers today, we can avoid this famine.”
The tool used by the UN and the wider international community to measure food insecurity – the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) defines famine as an extreme lack of food. “Hunger, death, misery and extremely critical levels of acute malnutrition are or are likely to be evident,” it said.
The last famine to be officially declared occurred in 2017 in some areas of South Sudan. Before that, an estimated 260,000 people died from famine in Somalia between 2010 and 2012.
Both countries remain acutely food insecure, and a WFP spokesman last month warned that only a massive humanitarian response could prevent parts of Somalia from facing renewed famine in the coming months.
The 2022 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report published jointly by the Food and Agriculture OrganisationIFAD, Unicef, WFP and the World Health Organization.