By Haruna Gimba
The COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis and conflict are threatening to cut off life-saving aid to families on the brink of famine in several countries across the world.
This was contained in a report issued on Friday by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
The UN agencies said of grave concern are 23 ‘hunger hotspots’ which over the next four months are expected to face an acute level of food insecurity due to the combined economic repercussions of COVID-19, the climate crisis and fighting.
“Families that rely on humanitarian assistance to survive are hanging by a thread. When we cannot reach them, that thread is cut, and the consequences are nothing short of catastrophic,” warned David Beasley, WFP Executive Director.
Bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of funding also hamper the agencies’ efforts to provide emergency food assistance and enable farmers to plant at scale and at the right time.
“The vast majority of those on the verge are farmers. Alongside food assistance, we must do all we can to help them resume food production themselves,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.
“So far, support to agriculture as key means of preventing widespread famine remains largely overlooked by donors. Without such support to agriculture, humanitarian needs will keep skyrocketing,” he added.
The 23 hotspots identified are; Afghanistan, Angola, Central Africa Republic, Central Sahel, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, El Salvador together with Honduras.
Others are; Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone together with Liberia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen.
FAO and WFP have warned that 41 million people were already at risk of falling into famine.
The 2020 saw 155 million people facing acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels in 55 countries, according to the Global Report on Food Crises.
This is an increase of more than 20 million from 2019, and the trend is only expected to worsen this year.
The report highlights that conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks, often related to the economic fallout of COVID-19, are likely to remain primary drivers of acute food insecurity for the August-November period this year.
Transboundary threats are also an aggravating factor in some regions. In particular, desert locust infestations in the Horn of Africa and African migratory locust swarms in Southern Africa.
Humanitarian access constraints are another severe aggravating factor, increasing the risk of famine.
Countries currently facing the most significant obstacles preventing aid from reaching them include Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Mali, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
“The road to zero Hunger isn’t paved with conflict, checkpoints and red tape. Humanitarian access isn’t some abstract concept.
“It means authorities approving paperwork in time so that food can be moved swiftly, it means checkpoints allow trucks to pass and reach their destination, it means humanitarian responders are not targeted, so they are able to carry out their life- and livelihood-saving work,” said Mr. Beasley.
Ethiopia and Madagascar are the world’s newest “highest alert” hunger hotspots according to the report. Ethiopia faces a devastating food emergency linked to ongoing conflict in the Tigray region.
Reaching those desperately in need remains an enormous challenge, with 401,000 people expected to face catastrophic conditions by September.
This is the highest number in one country since the 2011 famine in Somalia. Meanwhile, in southern Madagascar, 28,000 people are expected to be pushed into famine-like conditions by the end of the year.
This is due to the worst drought in 40 years, combined with rising food prices, sandstorms, and pests affecting staple crops.
The new highest alerts issued for Ethiopia and Madagascar add to South Sudan, Yemen, and northern Nigeria, which remain among the acute food insecurity hotspots of greatest global concern.
In a few areas, some of these countries are already experiencing famine conditions and significant numbers of people are at risk of falling into famine.