150 million more going hungry worldwide as war, COVID and climate crisis fuel a global food emergency

United Nations — The number of hungry people worldwide has increased by about 150 million since 2019. That is among the dire assessments contained in the United Nations’ 2022 report on the state of global food security, which paints a picture of a mammoth problem that’s only getting worse. 

In total, the report says, “the number of people unable to afford a healthy diet around the world rose by 112 million to almost 3.1 billion” as the war in Ukraine and other factors continue “disrupting supply chains and further affecting prices of grain, fertilizer and energy.”

The report published Wednesday paints a foreboding picture where almost a third of the people on the planet are unsure about their next meal. In 2021, an estimated 29.3% of the global population — 2.3 billion people — were moderately or severely food insecure, and 11.7% (923.7 million people) faced severe food insecurity, the report says.

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Formally titled “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022: Repurposing food and agricultural policies to make healthy diets more affordable,” the report was co-authored by five U.N. agencies: Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF), the World Food program (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Not only have the pandemic and the war in Ukraine driven up prices, it said, but “at the same time, more frequent and severe extreme climate events are disrupting supply chains, especially in low-income countries.”

The war in Ukraine, and Russia’s blockade of the country’s four major ports on the Black and Azov Seas in particular, has sent prices skyrocketing. Ukraine and Russia typically produce about a third of the wheat and barley the world consumes each year, and Russia is also a key exporter of components for fertilizer. But with Ukraine’s ports blocked and Russia claiming sanctions are preventing its exports, very little grain or other agricultural products are flowing out of either country.

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The 260-page report said that over the course of 2020 and 2021, some 84 million more people faced hunger across Asia compared to 2019. The U.N. agencies said 50 million additional people were affected by hunger in Africa during that two-year period, and an additional 13 million in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Citing the World Bank, the experts said that for every 1% increase in food prices, about 10 million more people are thrown into extreme poverty.

“Every year, 11 million people die due to unhealthy diets,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Rising food prices mean this will only get worse.”

“We have to act today to avert this looming catastrophe,” warned WFP Executive Director David Beasley. If the world fails to act, he said “the result will be global destabilization, starvation, and mass migration on an unprecedented scale.”

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The only way to solve the problem, the U.N. agencies said, is for governments, businesses and individuals to pitch in with cold hard cash.

“To avert the hunger catastrophe the world is facing, everyone must step up alongside government donors,” the WFP said, adding that the biggest challenges to its fundraising efforts are conflict, COVID-19, and the climate crisis, all of which continue to sap resources on a global scale.

“The unprecedented scale of the malnutrition crisis demands an unprecedented response,” said UNICEF’s Executive Director Catherine Russell. “With so many children’s lives and futures at stake, this is the time to step up our ambition for child nutrition – and we have no time to waste.”

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