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Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

The number of people going hungry surged 25% in 2021 and the toll is rising as the war in Ukraine sends food prices ever higher.

Conflicts in countries such as Ethiopia and Afghanistan have worsened crises there, and economic shocks from the Covid-19 pandemic curbed food access in almost two dozen nations, the Global Network Against Food Crises said. Extreme weather, such as severe drought in Madagascar, is also worsening the problem. 

Almost 193-million people across 53 countries or territories suffered acute food insecurity in 2021, meaning their lack of meals posed an immediate threat to their lives or livelihoods, the international alliance said in a report. That is up from 155-million in 55 countries for the prior year, and a record in the six years since the report began. The outlook is expected to “deteriorate further” this year.

“The war in Ukraine is supercharging a three-dimensional crisis — food, energy and finance — with devastating impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people, countries and economies,” UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said in the report. 

Ukraine is one of the world’s top grain and vegetable oil suppliers and the war is disrupting its harvests and exports. A gauge of world food prices has soared to a record — eclipsing levels seen in 2008 and 2011 that contributed to global food crises — piling pressure on governments from Sri Lanka to Peru. That’s helping to spark a wave of protectionism as some exporters curb overseas crop sales to ensure local supplies. 

The war will have “severe consequences” on global food security, as millions of Ukrainians are displaced and many import-dependent countries can’t get staple crops or fertilisers from Ukraine and Russia, according to the report. The war is also hampering the global economic recovery from the pandemic. 

Early data already indicates the food crisis is worsening. The number facing hunger this year will reach about 180-million in 41 of the countries surveyed last year, and Cabo Verde. While there is no forecast yet for the remaining 12 nations, it represents an additional 5-million hungry people across the countries where there are already projections.

The food crises network was founded by the EU, World Food Programme and UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in 2016.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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