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Credit: WFP/Marco Frattini

All time highs: The Global Report on Food Crises 2022

8 June 2022
Author: Elisabeth Faure

Climate shocks, conflict, Covid-19, and spiralling costs of food and fuel are creating a perfect storm, driving millions closer to starvation, and threatening global stability. 

At the same time, the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine are radiating outwards, triggering a wave of collateral hunger that is spreading across the globe. If the conflict in Ukraine persists, acute hunger is expected to rise by 47 million people in the 81 countries where World Food Programme (WFP) works. 

This is the scale of the challenge at hand, and the new Global Report on Food Crises makes this clear. Published by the Global Network Against Food Crises – an alliance of UN agencies including the World Food Programme (WFP), the European Union (EU), governmental and non-governmental bodies – the report highlights the number of people facing acute food insecurity and requiring urgent life-saving food assistance and livelihood support is climbing at an alarming rate.  

In 2021 alone, around 193 million people in 53 countries or territories experienced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels. This represents an increase of 25% compared to already record numbers of 2020. 

Among these, over half a million people across Ethiopia, South Sudan, southern Madagascar and Yemen were classified in the most severe phase of acute food insecurity – at IPC5 or ‘catastrophe/famine’ - and required urgent action to avert widespread collapse of livelihoods, starvation, and death.

What are the key drivers of hunger right now?

The report shows how multiple drivers of hunger and famine feed into one another, ranging from conflict to environmental and climate to economic and health crises with poverty and inequality as underlying causes.

It confirms what WFP has long known: conflict is the main driver of hunger. This has been true of every major conflict in human history and the world is seeing this unfold dramatically in Ukraine. Though its analysis predates the conflict in Ukraine, it shows how the war has already exposed the vulnerability of our global food systems. 

As such, countries already struggling with high levels of acute hunger remain particularly vulnerable to the shocks from the conflict in Ukraine due to their high dependency on imports of food and agricultural inputs and vulnerability to global food price shocks.

Other drivers include weather extremes, affecting over 23 million people in 8 countries. Economic shocks, particularly from the fallout of Covid-19, were also a key catalyst, affecting over 30 million people in 21 countries. 

It is imperative to target solutions towards these drivers of hunger to avert food crises in already fragile contexts.

There are unprecedented needs in 2022

At the start of the year, there were already 276 million people facing acute hunger in 81 countries served by WFP. This is already a record high, and an increase of 126 million people compared to before the pandemic. Now, the peril faced by the world’s 811 million hungry people is expected to peak in 2022. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are set to bear the brunt of this crisis, with around 730,000 people already facing famine-like conditions.

Countries at highest risk include parts of Ethiopia, with 400,000 affected by the Tigray crisis. Major deteriorations are anticipated in northern Nigeria, Yemen, Burkina Faso, and the Niger due to conflict, as well as in Kenya, South Sudan, and Somalia, largely due to the impact of consecutive seasons of below-average rains.

The challenge ahead

WFP is at a critical crossroads – our operational costs are going up as the numbers of acutely hungry rise to unprecedented levels at a time when funding for humanitarian operations is dwindling. In many countries, we have already been forced to cut rations to sustain our operations. 

We have a plan for 2022 but need support to help deliver millions from disaster. With at least 48.9 million people in 43 countries teetering on the edge of famine, we urgently need emergency funding to pull them back from the brink and turn this global crisis around before it’s too late.

The Global Food Crises report’s findings demonstrate the need for a greater prioritisation of smallholder agriculture as a frontline humanitarian response, to overcome access constraints and as a solution for reverting negative long-term trends. 

Root causes of hunger must be tackled by promoting structural changes to the way external financing is distributed, so that humanitarian assistance can be reduced over time through longer-term development investments. 

Likewise, strengthening a coordinated approach to ensure that humanitarian, development, and peacekeeping activities are delivered in a holistic and coordinated manner, and avoiding further fuelling conflict as an unintended consequence will also contribute to resilience building and recovery.

We must also mobilise the investments and political will needed to collectively address the causes and consequences of escalating food crises across humanitarian, development, and peace perspectives. The urgency to do this will likely continue to grow in the coming months and years, driven by the direct and indirect effects of the Ukraine crisis.

Inaction will have far-reaching consequences which will be felt around the world for years to come. We must act now.

About the author

World Food Programme UK

Elisabeth is the director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Office in London