Hunger hotspots: UN warns current food insecurity worse than Arab Spring

World Food Programme’s (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley, warned of the likely social unrest that could spillover from the current circumstances. [SHUTTERTSTOCK]

Acute food insecurity will likely deteriorate further in 20 countries – so-called ‘hunger hotspots’ – over the coming months, according to a new report from the world’s major food organisations, who warn the current situation is already worse than during the 2011 Arab Spring.

The report, published on Monday (6 June) by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) together with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), paints a grim picture of the next quarter of 2022 amid warnings of “multiple, looming food crises”.

The crises are driven by a combination of conflict, climate shocks and the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine, which has led to burgeoning food and fuel prices across the globe.

The report highlights 20 countries – which the report refers to as ‘hunger hotspots’ – as being particularly vulnerable.

These are areas where skyrocketing food and energy prices will be particularly acute, as these hikes combine with drops in food production due to climate shocks, such as recurrent droughts or flooding.

Topping the list includes notoriously food-insecure countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, which remain at ‘highest alert’.

However, the list has also seen the addition of several new countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia and Kenya, since the last hotspots report, released in January 2022.

On the back of the publication of the report, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said the organisations are “deeply concerned about the combined impacts of overlapping crises jeopardising people’s ability to produce and access foods, pushing millions more into extreme levels of acute food insecurity”.

“We are in a race against time to help farmers in the most affected countries, including by rapidly increasing potential food production and boosting their resilience in the face of challenges,” he warned.

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Economic instability

Meanwhile, the WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley, warned of the likely social unrest that could spillover from the current circumstances.

According to Beasley, current conditions are now “much worse” than the ones seen during the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2007-2008 food price crisis, in which 48 countries were “rocked by political unrest, riots and protests”.

“We’ve already seen what’s happening in Indonesia, Pakistan, Peru, and Sri Lanka – that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he warned, adding that this is a “perfect storm” which will not only hurt the poorest of the poor, but also “overwhelm millions of families who until now have just about kept their heads above water”.

His comments echo that of the FAO’s deputy director, Maurizio Martina, who told EURACTIV back in April that it was crucial to learn from past crises to avoid making the same mistakes.

For example, he criticised the fact that policymakers were too slow in building policies to intervene in food security and global supply chain issues during the 2007-2008 food crisis.

“But the current situation also has some new elements because there is a war and because the impact of climate change on agricultural production is now more significant,” he warned.

Urgent humanitarian action required

As such, the report details concrete country-specific recommendations on priorities for immediate humanitarian response, which it maintains is required to “save lives, prevent famine and protect livelihoods”.

It also called for anticipatory action in humanitarian and development assistance to ensure that predictable hazards “don’t become full-blown humanitarian disasters”.

“We have solutions. But we need to act, and act fast,” WFP’s Beasley urged.

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[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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