The number of people without enough to eat on a daily basis has reached an all-time high last year and is poised to hit “appalling” new levels as the Ukraine war affects global food production, the United Nations said.
Nearly 193 million people in 53 countries suffered acute food insecurity in 2021 due to what the UN said in a report published on Wednesday was a “toxic triple combination” of conflict, weather extremes and the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The UN said the total number of people without adequate food every day increased by 40 million last year, confirming a “worrisome trend” of annual increases over several years.
The figures appeared in the Global Report on Food Crisis (PDF), which is produced jointly by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme and the European Union.
“Today, if more is not done to support rural communities, the scale of the devastation in terms of hunger and lost livelihoods will be appalling,” the UN said. “Urgent humanitarian action is needed on a massive scale to prevent that from happening.”
Countries experiencing protracted conflicts, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, had the most food-insecure populations, according to the report.
‘Real cause for concern’
The UN previously said the war in Ukraine was helping to send prices for commodities such as grains and vegetable oils to record highs, threatening millions with hunger and malnourishment.
“When we look at the consequences of what’s happening as a result of the war in Ukraine, there is real cause for concern of how this will amplify the acute food needs that exist in these food crisis countries,” said Rein Paulsen, director of the FAO’s office of emergencies and resilience.
The FAO noted that several countries battling major food crises obtained almost all of their wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine last year, including Somalia, the DRC and Madagascar, and warned that the “outlook moving forward is not good”.
“Urgent humanitarian action is needed on a massive scale to prevent that from happening,” the FAO said. “There is no time to waste.”
In 2021, conflict and insecurity was the main driver of acute hunger in 24 countries, affecting 139 million people.
Economic “shocks”, worsened by the impact of COVID-19, hit 30.2 million people in 21 countries. In eight African countries, extreme weather was the main driver of acute food insecurity for 23.5 million people.
The report called for greater investment in agriculture and appealed for $1.5bn to help farmers in at-risk regions with the upcoming planting season to help stabilise and increase local food production.