UN looks to address ‘unprecedented catastrophic levels’ of food insecurity 

4 October 2021

The world currently faces unprecedented catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity, according to UN agencies, and around $6.6 billion is needed urgently, to support 41 million in danger of sliding into famine. 

To ramp up support, the United Nations on Monday convened a high-level event, calling for international action, before it is too late. 

Close to half a million people are experiencing famine-like conditions (IPC phase 5, under the official classification) in Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen. In recent months, vulnerable populations in Burkina Faso and Nigeria have also been subjected to these same conditions.  

In addition, 41 million people worldwide face emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC 4), only one slip away from the edge of famine, representing a 50 per cent increase in just two years. 

Millions more are experiencing crisis levels of acute food insecurity (IPC 3) and are at real risk of rapid deterioration. 

A toxic mix 

Opening the event, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs said that “when famine finally opens the door, it goes viral in a way that other threats perhaps don’t.” 

For relief chief Martin Griffiths, the situation is result of “a toxic mix of economic decline, climate change, COVID-19 and of course, most importantly, conflict driving this terrible scourge, with women and girls, as always, left particularly vulnerable.” 

“Women tell us of the desperate measures they must take to find food to feed their families, including trading sex for food, resorting to early and child marriages, as I was hearing when I was in Syria quite recently,” he recalled. 

Mr. Griffiths thanked donors, saying that the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has been able to ramp up humanitarian operations in high-risk countries, such as South Sudan, Ethiopia,  Burkina Faso, and Yemen, where the UN agency currently reaches 10 million people each month.  

Mr. Griffiths warned, though, that it is time to redouble efforts and to show that the world can collectively rise to this challenge  

“There is time, not much, and we need it to happen,” he said. 

Political will 

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), Qu Dongyu, also spoke at the event. For him, “food and livelihood assistance must be given in tandem.” 

“Supporting agri-food systems and providing long-term assistance, lays the path to recovery, beyond just survival, and increases resilience. I thank Members for their support. There's no time to waste,” he said. 

The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, highlighted the need to get the message out, saying that world leaders “will respond” when “they know what the reality is”. 

According to Mr. Beasley, there is $400 trillion of wealth in the world today and, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, billionaires were averaging a net worth increase of $5.2 billion a day. 

‘It’s a disgrace’ 

“And the fact that we’re sitting here begging for $6.6 billion to save 41 million people, and to keep nations from destabilizing, and to prevent mass migration…I don’t know what in the world I’m missing. It’s a disgrace that we’re having this conversation,” he concluded. 

In March, at the Security Council, the UN Secretary-General called for a swift, coordinated response. 

At the time, António Guterres also established a High-level Task Force on Preventing Famine to bring attention to and mobilize support for the most-affected countries.  

 

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