WFP warns of countdown to catastrophe as acute hunger reaches new peak

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The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the number of people teetering on the edge of famine in 43 countries has risen to 45 million, as acute hunger spikes around the world. This number has risen from 42 million earlier in the year and 27 million in 2019.

“Tens of millions of people are staring into an abyss. We’ve got conflict, climate change and COVID-19 driving up the numbers of the acutely hungry, and the latest data show there are now more than 45 million people marching towards the brink of starvation,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley after a trip to Afghanistan, where WFP is ramping up its support to assist almost 23 million people.

“Fuel costs are up, food prices are soaring, fertilizer is more expensive, and all of this feeds into new crises like the one unfolding now in Afghanistan, as well as long-standing emergencies like Yemen and Syria,” he added.

WFP and its humanitarian partners are ramping up efforts to assist millions of people facing starvation. However, the needs are vastly surpassing available resources at a time when traditional funding streams are overstretched. The cost of averting famine globally now stands at US$ 7 billion, up from US$ 6.6 billion earlier in the year.

“As the cost of humanitarian assistance rises exponentially, we need more funds to reach families across the globe who have already exhausted their capacity to cope with extreme hunger,” he added.

Families facing acute food insecurity are also being forced to make devastating choices to cope with the rising hunger. WFP’s vulnerability analysis across the 43 countries shows families being forced to eat less, or skip meals entirely, feeding children over adults, and in some extreme cases being forced to eat locusts, wild leaves, or cactus to survive – as in Madagascar.

In other areas, families are forced to marry off children early or pull them out of school, sell off assets like livestock or what little else they have left. Meanwhile media reports from Afghanistan point to families reportedly being forced to sell their children in a desperate attempt to survive.

Food prices hit a ten-year high this month, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index. This not only pushes food out of reach for millions of the poorest around the globe, but it also increases the cost of procuring food on global markets. Added to this are the high prices of fuel which also increases transportation costs and places a further strain on global supply chains – shipping a container cost US$1,000 a year ago, but now costs US$4,000 or more.

This year, WFP has already been undertaking the biggest operation in its history – targeting 139 million people across the 85 countries where it operates. This work covers both emergency food and nutrition needs, as well as work with partners to build resilience and increase the self-reliance of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet.

Photo: WFP/Marco Di Lauro

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