Acute hunger is likely to soar in more than 20 countries in the next few months, the UN has warned.
Families in pockets of Yemen and South Sudan are already in the grip of starvation, according to a report on hunger hotspots published by the agency’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP).
An estimated 34 million people are struggling with emergency levels of acute hunger known as IPC (Integrated food security Phase Classification) 4, meaning they are ‘one step away from starvation’.
Acute hunger is being driven by conflict, climate shocks and the Covid pandemic, and, in some places, compounded by storms of desert locusts.
“The magnitude of suffering is alarming,” said FAO director-general Qu Dongyu. “It is incumbent upon all of us to act now and to act fast to save lives, safeguard livelihoods and prevent the worst situation.”
Northern Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan top the list of places facing “catastrophic” levels of acute hunger, the agencies said.
Most of the hotspots identified in the report are in Africa, but some are in other regions, from Afghanistan in Asia, Syria and Lebanon in the Middle East and Haiti in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“In many regions, the planting season has just started or is about to start,” said Qu. “We must run against the clock and not let this opportunity to protect, stabilise and even possibly increase local food production slip away.”
“We are seeing a catastrophe unfold before our very eyes,” said WFP executive director David Beasley. “Famine – driven by conflict, and fuelled by climate shocks and the Covid-19 pandemic – is knocking on the door for millions of families.”
Three things were needed to stop “millions from dying of starvation”, he said – a halt in fighting, increased access to vulnerable communities and a step up in donations.
Earlier this month, the FAO and WFP called for $5.5bn (£4bn) to avert famine, through humanitarian food assistance, cash and emergency livelihood interventions.
Latin America is the region hardest hit by economic decline and will be the slowest to recover, the report found, while in the Middle East, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon are seriously affected by rapid currency depreciation and rocketing inflation.
More than 7 million people across South Sudan are projected to face crisis levels of acute food insecurity during the period from April to July, the report found, while more than 16 million Yemenis are expected to be experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity by June, an increase of 3 million since the end of last year. Other countries identified as among the worst hunger hotspots are Burkina Faso, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Sudan and Syria.