The risk of food insecurity and hunger is set to increase in 2021, according to a recent UN report. Largely a product of ongoing armed conflict, natural disasters and climate change, it is predicted that 10.4 million children across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan, northeast Nigeria, the Central Sahel, and Yemen will suffer from acute malnutrition in the coming year. The possibility of ‘catastrophic hunger’ is compounded even further by the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that has served to globally disrupt food systems and supply chains and plunge approximately 150 million people into extreme poverty. To avert the possibility of extreme famine, the UN is now calling upon its member nations to ramp up their donation efforts and ensure that food assistance is provided to those in worst-hit countries.
David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, warns that 2021 is likely to be ‘catastrophic’ in terms of humanitarian crises, stressing that “famine is literally on the horizon and we are talking about the next few months.” Whilst conflict remains the main cause of acute hunger, “COVID-19 has turned a nutrition crisis into an imminent catastrophe,” according to UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Families already struggling to feed their children and themselves are now on the brink of famine. We can’t let them be the forgotten victims of 2020.”
Clearly, this crisis is coming, and it’s coming fast. For the first time in recent history, four countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen – are simultaneously facing the very real prospect of famine. As the threat of losing an entire generation of young children looms closer in these countries, continued cuts to humanitarian support throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have served to further worsen the situation, leaving more and more families going into 2021 without access to basic food necessities. As this number continues to grow, and it will, it is vital that the international community recognize the severity of the situation and urgently seek to increase funding for the provision of food assistance measures. The UK has recently pledged an additional 47 million pounds in aid assistance, and other countries would be wise to do the same.
Since 2014, the number of people affected by hunger on a global scale has slowly been on the rise. For millions across the world, trends of increased armed conflict, as well as deteriorating environmental conditions and severe climate disasters, have made accessing affordable, nutritional and simply enough food a challenging and often unachievable task. Resultingly, even before the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, current projections were indicating that the world was not on track to achieve a key Sustainable Development Goal, Zero Hunger, by 2030.
Whilst we all continue to grapple with the fallout of this unprecedented health crisis, it is vital we do not turn our backs on helping the world’s most vulnerable access the most basic of life’s necessities. In the coming months, the international community must commit to taking urgent and sustained humanitarian action to address declining levels of food security and prevent those on the brink of starvation from suffering even further.
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