The number of people in the world suffering from hunger has increased for the third year in a row, according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World. The report, published this week by United Nations agencies, shows that, in 2017, there were nearly 821 million people suffering from hunger. One in nine people on the planet are undernourished.
After years of progress, climate change and conflict have contributed to global hunger numbers rising to levels last seen a decade ago. Without immediate and joint action by governments and the international community, the goal of eradicating hunger by 2030 will not be possible.
“We are witnessing an alarming reversal in the world’s hard-earned progress against hunger and malnutrition,” says Andrea Tamburini, Chief Executive of Action Against Hunger USA. “For nearly 40 years, Action Against Hunger has been on the front lines treating and preventing hunger in some of the world’s most challenging contexts. We know that hunger is a problem that we can solve. To do so, we must keep hunger at the top of the global agenda.”
Hunger as a Weapon of War
75 percent of the world’s malnourished people live in conflict zones and 492 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian aid. War destroys markets and livelihoods, drives mass population displacement, and causes increased risk of acute malnutrition. Food insecurity and competition for natural resources or food are also a major cause of the 46 active conflicts currently in the world today. Attacks on civilians and aid workers, as well as infrastructure to support the delivery of aid, clean water, health, and livelihoods, are increasing.
In May 2018, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2417, recognizing the close links between war and hunger. Action Against Hunger calls for the urgent development of measures to implement this resolution on the ground, to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war, to guarantee direct access to victims of humanitarian aid, and to uphold the duties outlined in international humanitarian law.
A Changing Climate
In 14 of 34 recent food crises, conflict and climate change occur together, compounding the impacts that both have on driving hunger. It’s estimated that climate change will cause 600 million more people will suffer from hunger by 2080. The countries most affected by hunger are also those most affected by extreme weather conditions and general climate change. The world’s poorest people – especially women – have done little to cause climate change, but suffer its most severe consequences.
In countries where livelihoods are highly dependent on agriculture and livestock, there is a strong correlation between climate change and increased hunger. For example, in the Sahel region of Africa, the agriculture and livestock sectors employ 65 percent of the active population. Low rainfall levels and decreased resources for pastoral communities have jeopardized food security for millions of people.
To address the challenge of rising hunger in a warming world, we need a paradigm shift. The growing coexistence of cases of undernutrition and overnutrition means that a concerted effort must be made to promote sustainable, diversified, healthy, and nutritious diets. Agricultural and climate response policies must put vulnerable populations, particularly small-scale food producers, at their center. Funds that enable these vulnerable communities to adapt to a changing climate and increase their resilience must be greatly increased.
Scaling up Treatment And Prevention
As global hunger numbers grow, progress toward preventing and treating the deadliest form of hunger, acute malnutrition, has stalled. For many years, the number of acutely malnourished children has remained the same, at 50 million, or one in twelve children on the planet.
“Hunger is predictable, preventable and treatable,” explained Saul Guerrero, Technical Director for Action Against Hunger USA. “We know to reverse the impacts of undernutrition—children who complete treatment are cured, 90% of the time. Yet less than 25% of acutely malnourished children can hope to access the help they need.”
According to the UN report, efforts to increase access to malnutrition treatment is growing: in 2014, roughly 3 million acutely malnourished children were admitted for treatment programs. By 2016, more than four million children were admitted – an increase of more than one million within two years.
Added Guerrero, “We cannot stop until every child has access to lifesaving treatment. We must scale proven programs and make them more efficient, localized, and sustainable to ensure there are no more wasted lives.”