UN Reports Global Hunger Rising With Conflict And Climate Change

The number of hungry people in the world has increased for the first time in more than a decade, according to a new United Nations report released last Friday. The study found that conflict exacerbated by climate-related shocks has threatened food security over the past year, sparking concerns that the progress made to alleviate world hunger could be reversed.

The United Nations’ annual report on the state of food security, produced by five UN agencies, is the first UN global assessment on food security and nutrition to be released since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. Worryingly, the 2017 report found that the number of hungry people in the world had increased for the first time this century. According to the report, the number of chronically undernourished people in the world reached 815 million in 2016, which is 38 million more than in 2015. Globally, this percentage of people increased from 10.6 percent in 2015 to 11 percent in 2016. The recent surge of hunger reached critical levels in some parts of the world, with a famine declared in areas of South Sudan in early 2017 and several other countries that are on the brink of famine.

The UN announced that it is not yet clear whether the uptick in hunger levels in 2016 marks the beginning of an upward trend or if it simply reflects an acute transient situation. Last year’s figures are still lower than the 900 million undernourished people registered in 2000, yet reductions in both the level and degree of undernourishment has slowed significantly since 2010. In addition, last year saw the food security situation deteriorate sharply in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and South-Eastern Asia.

The report’s authors largely attribute the rise in global hunger in 2016 to the proliferation of violent conflict and climate-related shocks. The study found that the majority of the chronically food insecure and malnourished live in countries affected by conflict; out of the 815 million undernourished people in the world, an estimated 489 million live in countries affected by conflict. While the conflict was identified as the main driver of food insecurity, the study noted that hunger worsened when conflict areas were also affected by climate-related problems. Droughts and floods, linked in part to the El Niño phenomenon, were found to compound food security issues.

The authors of the report warn that their findings “set off alarm bells we cannot afford to ignore.” The international community will not achieve its goal of ending global hunger and malnutrition by 2030, they say, unless all the factors that undermine food security are addressed. As such, tackling food insecurity in conflict-affected situations cannot be “business as usual”, but rather requires the adoption of a “conflict-sensitive approach that aligns actions for immediate humanitarian assistance, long-term development and sustaining peace.” As Oxfam’s head of food and climate change, Robin Willoughby, said, this report must act as a wake-up call for international leaders and institutions to do more “to resolve the catastrophic cocktail of climate change and conflict around the world. Global failure to tackle these issues affects us all, but it’s the world’s poorest who will suffer most.”