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UN food agencies warn of rising levels of acute hunger

Barely two months ago, the world celebrated the first-ever observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations delivered key messages to raise awareness, a wake-up call that was highlighted by the novel coronavirus pandemic. More and more people are affected by hunger on a global scale, and this is largely due to loss and/or wastage of edible food.

Despite the warnings, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), recently sent out a report-‘The Early Warning Analysis of Acute Food Insecurity Hotspots’ claiming that four countries namely Burkina Faso in West Africa’s Sahel region, northeastern Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen contain areas that could soon slip into famine if conditions there undergo “any further deterioration over the coming months”.

The report has placed the blame squarely on a lethal cocktail of the Covid-19 pandemic, economic decline, extreme climatic conditions, and conflict in the affected areas. The four areas have already entered a situation of critical hunger, with increasing conflict and lack of humanitarian access to alleviate the situation. The four areas are just but a tip of the iceberg, as a further sixteen countries could follow suit if measures are not put in place to prevent the disaster which is projected to occur within three to six months.

Several factors have been identified which need to be monitored as a determinant of how the situation will play out. These are conflict dynamics, food prices, and the myriad impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on their food systems, rainfall and harvest outcomes, humanitarian access, and the readiness of donors to continue funding humanitarian operations. 

In a recently released statement, Dominique Burgeon, FAO’s Director of Emergencies and Resilience said “This report is a clear call to urgent action, “We are deeply concerned about the combined impact of several crises which are eroding people’s ability to produce and access food, leaving them more and more at risk of the most extreme hunger. We need access to these populations to ensure they have food and the means to produce food and improve their livelihoods to prevent a worst-case scenario.”

The WFP Director of Emergencies, Margot van der Velden further reiterated that “We are at a catastrophic turning point. Once again, we face the risk of famine in four different parts of the world at the same time. When we declare a famine it means many lives have already been lost. If we wait to find that out for sure, people are already dead.”

“In 2011, Somalia suffered a famine that killed 260,000 people. The famine was declared in July, but most people had already died by May. We cannot let this happen again. We have a stark choice; urgent action today, or unconscionable loss of life tomorrow,” she warned.

A total of 20 countries have been highlighted in the report which hits close to home as Kenya, and East Africa overall hit by floods, a desert locust upsurge, economic challenges, and the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic – compounded in some contexts by persisting conflict – is exacerbating food insecurity and severely eroding livelihoods.

A forecast below-average October-December rainy season, mainly over parts of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda, is likely to affect secondary-season cereal crops to be harvested from February 2021, as well as the demand for agricultural labor, staple food prices, and, in pastoral areas, the wellbeing of livestock. This will likely lead to an increase in the number of people facing a food crisis or emergency and could jeopardize the already fragile security situation and exacerbate intercommunal violence in Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan.

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