This year – 2021, over 20 million people have been pushed to hunger – extreme levels of food insecurity, reaching a total of 155 million people in 55 countries. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the number of people living in famine-like conditions has increased six-fold to more than 520,000.
Today, 11 people are likely dying every minute from acute hunger, says the latest Oxfam Report. This rate outpaces the current pandemic mortality rate, which is at 7 people per minute. This is linked to the three lethal Cs – conflict, COVID-19 and the climate crisis. Conflict was the single largest driver of hunger since the pandemic began, the primary factor pushing nearly 100 million people in 23 conflict-torn countries to crisis or worse levels of food insecurity.
Even as governments had to find massive new resource flows to fight the coronavirus, global military spending rose by 2.7% last year – the equivalent of $51 billion, enough to cover the $7.9 billion 2021 UN humanitarian food security appeal six and a half times over. Arms sales spiraled in some of the most conflict-torn countries battered by hunger, says the report. It attributes COVID-19 economic fallout as the second key driver of the global hunger crisis, deepening poverty and exposing the growing inequality around the world. The estimated number of people living in extreme poverty is projected to reach 745 million by the end of 2021, an increase of 100 million since the pandemic started. Marginalized groups, especially women, displaced people and informal workers, have been hit hardest. It has to be highlighted that 2.7 billion people have not received any public financial support to deal with the pandemic’s economic devastation.
Around the world, 33 million workers lost their jobs in 2020. The pandemic led to mass unemployment causing $3.7 trillion in lost labor income, the equivalent to 4.4% of 2019 global GDP. Economic shocks fueled primarily by the pandemic have pushed over 40 million people in 17 countries to hunger. This is a near 70% increase over the previous year, and does not account for the three billion people who could not afford a healthy diet even before the pandemic.
Globally, food prices have increased by almost 40% since last year, the highest rise in over a decade. This has been driven by increased demand for biofuels, lockdowns and border closures that continue to disrupt food flows. Food inflation is making food unaffordable for many people even when it is available. This is especially true for people in countries like Yemen or Haiti, which import most of their food and cannot offer subsidies, price control mechanisms or cash transfers to increase people’s purchasing power.
The Oxfam report stated that the climate crisis was the third significant driver of global hunger this year. Nearly 400 weather related disasters, including record-breaking storms and flooding continued to intensify for millions across Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Horn of Africa, where communities were already battered by the effects of conflict and COVID-19 related poverty. Hunger has also intensified in emerging hunger hotspots like Brazil, India and South Africa, which saw some of the sharpest rises in COVID-19 infections, in parallel with a surge in hunger.
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To end the hunger crisis, Oxfam recommends for governments to rebuild a fairer and more sustainable global economy as they recover from the pandemic. They must tackle the key drivers of hunger and eradicate underlying inequalities that widen the gap between the rich and the poor people. This includes supporting smallholder farmers to recover and building fairer, most sustainable food systems.
Furthermore, to save lives now and in the future, governments must fully fund the UN’s humanitarian appeal, and support a global fund for social protection, guarantee humanitarian access in conflict zones and an end to using hunger as weapon of war, forge peace by promoting women’s participation and leadership in peace building, build fairer, more resilient and more sustainable food systems, ensure women lead the pandemic response and the recovery, support a people’s vaccine and take action to tackle the climate crisis.