After declining for several decades, world hunger has been on the rise since 2016, driven by conflict and climate change
Eleven people die every minute of hunger, according to a new report by Oxfam, which also found the number of those facing famine-like conditions globally has increased by six times over the past year.
Published on Friday, “The Hunger Virus Multiplies” report (PDF) said the death toll from famine outpaces that of COVID-19, which kills about seven people per minute.
“The statistics are staggering, but we must remember that these figures are made up of individual people facing unimaginable suffering. Even one person is too many,” said Abby Maxman, Oxfam America’s president and chief executive officer.
According to the charity, 155 million people around the world now live at crisis levels of food insecurity or worse – some 20 million more than last year. About two-thirds of them face hunger because their country is in military conflict.
As of mid-June, the number of people falling into the most acute phase of the famine stood at 521,814 across Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen – up from 84,500 last year, an increase of more than 500 percent, according to the global report on Food Crises 2021 (PDF).
The group identified countries including Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Afghanistan and Venezuela as places where existing food crises had been worsened by the onset of the pandemic and its economic consequences.
Oxfam said the three main causes triggering acute hunger were COVID-19, the climate crisis and conflict. Wars were the single largest driver of hunger since the pandemic started, pushing nearly 100 million people in 23 embattled countries to worse levels of food shortage.
“Instead of battling the pandemic, warring parties fought each other, too often landing the last blow to millions already battered by weather disasters and economic shocks,” Maxman said.
“Starvation continues to be used as a weapon of war, depriving civilians of food and water and impeding humanitarian relief. People can’t live safely or find food when their markets are being bombed and crops and livestock are destroyed.”
The charity noted global military spending increased by $51bn during the pandemic — an amount that exceeds by at least six times what the United Nations needs to stop hunger.
It urged governments to stop conflicts from continuing to spawn “catastrophic hunger” and to ensure that relief agencies could operate in conflict zones and reach those in need. It also called on donor countries to “immediately and fully” fund the UN’s efforts to alleviate hunger.
Meanwhile, global warming and the economic repercussions of the pandemic have caused a 40 percent increase in global food prices, the highest in more than 10 years. This surge has contributed significantly to pushing tens of millions more people into hunger, said the report.
Oxfam’s analysis comes before the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s report on global food security, due to be published on Monday.