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Catastrophe: Over 280 mn in 59 countries faced acute hunger in 2023, says FAO

Catastrophe: Over 280 mn in 59 countries faced acute hunger in 2023, says FAO

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Nearly 282 million people in 59 countries suffered from acute hunger in 2023, with war-torn Gaza having the largest number of people facing famine, according to the United Nations “Global Report on Food Crises” released on Wednesday.

It said 24 million more people faced an acute lack of food than in 2022, because of the sharp deterioration in food security, especially in the Gaza Strip and Sudan.

The number of nations with food crises that are monitored has also been expanded.

Máximo Torero, the chief economist for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said 705,000 people in five countries are at Phase 5, the highest level, on a scale of hunger determined by international experts — the highest number since the global report began in 2016 and quadruple the number that year.

South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Somalia, and Mali each host many thousands facing catastrophic hunger.

Over 80 percent of those facing imminent famine — 577,000 people — were in Gaza alone, he said.

After the Hamas invasion of Israel in October 2023, wherein nearly 1,200 Israelis were massacred, the Jewish state counter-attacked the Gaza Strip. In the ongoing conflict, over 34,000 people have died and a majority of 2.3 million Gazans are now facing starvation.

According to the report’s future outlook, around 1.1 million people in Gaza, where the Israel-Hamas war is now in its seventh month, and 79,000 in South Sudan are projected to be in Phase 5 and facing famine by July 2024.

It said conflict will also continue to drive food insecurity in Haiti, where gangs control large portions of the capital.

Besides, while the El Nino phenomenon peaked in early 2024, “its full impact on food security – including flooding and poor rain in parts of East Africa and drought in Southern Africa, especially Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – are likely to manifest throughout the year.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the report “a roll call of human failings,” and that “in a world of plenty, children are starving to death.”

“The conflicts erupting over the past 12 months compound a dire global situation,” he wrote in the report’s Foreword.

Guterres highlighted the conflict in the Gaza Strip, as the enclave holds the highest number of people facing catastrophic hunger. There is also the year-old conflict in Sudan, which has created the world’s largest internal displacement crisis “with atrocious impacts on hunger and nutrition,” he added.

According to the report, over 36 million people in 39 countries and territories are facing an acute hunger emergency, a step below the famine level in Phase 4, with more than a third in Sudan and Afghanistan. It’s an increase of a million people from 2022, the report said.

Arif Husain, the UN World Food Program’s chief economist, said every year since 2016 the numbers of people acutely food insecure have gone up, and they are now more than double the numbers before the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the report looks at 59 countries, he said the target is to get data from 73 countries where there are people who are acutely food insecure.

Guterres called for an urgent response to the report’s findings that addresses the underlying causes of acute hunger and malnutrition while transforming the systems that supply food. Funding is also not keeping pace with the needs, he stressed.

“We must have the funding, and we also must have the access,” Husain said, stressing that both “go hand-in-hand” and are essential to tackle acute food insecurity.

The report is the flagship publication of the Food Security Information Network and is based on a collaboration of 16 partners including UN agencies, regional and multinational bodies, the European Union, the US Agency for International Development, technical organizations, and others.


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