The number of people facing acute food insecurity and requiring urgent life-saving help is growing at an “alarming rate”, according to a new report.

The annual report launched today (Wednesday, May 4) by the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) called for the root causes of food crises to be tackled rather than just responding after they happen.

The network is an international alliance including the United Nations (UN), European Union and governmental and non-governmental agencies.

Food insecurity

Acute food insecurity is when a person’s inability to consume adequate food puts their lives or livelihoods in immediate danger.

In 2021, around 193 million people in 53 countries or territories experienced acute food insecurity at crisis levels or worse.

This represents an increase of nearly 40 million people compared with the record numbers of 2020.

570,000 in Ethiopia, Madagascar, Sudan and Yemen were classified in the most severe phase of acute food insecurity and required urgent action to avert widespread collapse of livelihoods, starvation and death.

When looking at the same 39 countries or territories featured in all editions of the report, the number of people facing crisis or worse nearly doubled between 2016 and 2021, with unabated rises each year since 2018.

Root causes

The report outlined that the key drivers behind rising acute food insecurity in 2021 were:

  • Conflict (main driver pushing 139 million people in 24 countries/territories into acute food insecurity, up from around 99 million in 23 countries/territories in in 2020);
  • Weather extremes (over 23 million people in eight countries/territories, up from 15.7 million in 15 countries/territories);
  • Economic shocks – (over 30 million people in 21 countries/territories, down from over 40 million people in 17 countries/territories in 2020, mainly due to the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic).

The report calls for a greater prioritisation of smallholder agriculture, changes to how external funds are distributed and promotion of more efficient and sustainable humanitarian assistance.

It also said that peacekeeping activities should be delivered in a holistic and coordinated manner to avoid further fueling conflict.

Commenting on the report European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said:

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine jeopardizes global food security. The international community must act to avert the largest food crisis in history and the social, economic, and political upheaval that could follow.

“While it is necessary to provide immediate assistance to save lives and prevent famine, we must continue to help partner countries in transition to sustainable agri-food systems and resilient supply chains by tapping the full potential of the Green Deal and the Global Gateway,” Urpilainen said.

“Acute hunger is soaring to unprecedented levels and the global situation just keeps on getting worse,” World Food Programme (WFP) executive director David Beasley said.

“Millions of people in dozens of countries are being driven to the edge of starvation. We urgently need emergency funding to pull them back from the brink and turn this global crisis around before it’s too late,” he added.