PARIS, FRANCE — Some 258 million people needed emergency food aid last year because of conflict, economic shocks and climate disasters, a UN report said Wednesday, a sharp rise from 193 million the previous year.
“More than a quarter of a billion people are now facing acute levels of hunger, and some are on the brink of starvation. That’s unconscionable,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
It was “a stinging indictment of humanity’s failure to make progress… to end hunger, and achieve food security and improved nutrition for all,” he said.
In 2022, 258 million people faced high levels of acute food insecurity in 58 countries or territories, up from 193 million in 53 countries the previous year, the report said.
More than 40 percent of those lived in the conflict-torn countries of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Yemen, it said.
This overall figure of people in dire need of food aid has now increased for the fourth consecutive year in a row.
The report categorised them in a situation of “crisis”, “emergency” or — worst — “catastrophe”.
In this last category, 376,000 people were on the brink of starvation last year, it said.
More than half of them lived in Somalia, a nation experiencing a devastating drought linked to climate change.
An international group of climate scientists, the World Weather Attribution (WWA), said last month that human-caused climate change had made agricultural drought in the Horn of Africa “about 100 times more likely”.
In the 58 countries included in the report, over 35 million children under five years old were malnourished and dangerously thin, it said.
But “humanitarian funding to fight hunger and malnutrition pales in comparison to what is needed”, Guterres said.
Ukraine war impact
The food crises last year were caused by “conflict and insecurity, economic shocks and weather extremes”, the report said.
“In 2022, these key drivers were associated with lingering socioeconomic impacts of Covid-19, the knock-on effects of the war in Ukraine and repeated droughts and other weather extremes.”
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year had an effect because of the major contributions Ukraine and Russia make “to the production and trade of fuel, fertilisers and essential food commodities like wheat, maize and sunflower oil”, it said.
In July last year, the United Nations and Turkey brokered a landmark deal to ease Ukraine grain exports after they were blocked by the Russian invasion.
But “although global food prices had fallen by the end of 2022, they remained well above pre-pandemic levels”, it said.
UN officials and non-governmental organisations warned last month that deaths from hunger were on the rise in Africa because of droughts worsened by climate change and conflict.
One person dies of starvation every 36 seconds on average in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, the UN Children’s Organisation UNICEF and the NGOs Care and Oxfam said.