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COVID-19 impacts driving up acute hunger in countries already in food crisis

  |   SUN Country Network, SUN UN Network

The Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) held a high-level event to present a review of the most recent global data available on how the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are driving up acute hunger in vulnerable countries that were already wracked by food crises even before the novel coronavirus arrived on the scene. The meeting was also important for international resource partners and relevant actors to discuss emerging priorities, financing and programming implications in light of COVID-19.

New data related to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, reveal that the central African nation has now become the world’s largest food crisis in terms of absolute numbers of the acutely food-insecure – a staggering 21.8 million people. This, as the impacts of COVID-19 related control measures aggravated pre-existing hunger drivers in the country: insecurity and armed conflict, an extended economic slump, and heavy rains and flooding.

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, QU Dongyu, told the event, convened on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, that it was critical to work together before the situation deteriorates and, focusing on prevention and early warning systems and actions. Qu also highlighted the importance of data collection and “global differentiation”, which are the basis of FAO’s Hand-in-Hand, an initiative aimed at partnering developed countries with those most in need to accelerate agri-food system transformation and sustainable rural development. He noted that the Hand-in-Hand Initiative includes the recently-launched Geospatial Platform for data collection.

Mark Lowcock, the United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the high-level side event that the current food crisis was the biggest the world had seen for 50 years but stressed that it was not too late to act to prevent acute hunger from becoming a long-lasting problem.

The EU Commissioners for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, and for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, called for stronger coordination among humanitarian and development actors, and ensured the commitment of the European Union to strengthen the GNAFC.

Hunger hotspots continue to heat up

In addition to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the worst deteriorations in acute hunger in recent months have taken place in Burkina Faso – which has witnessed a nearly 300 percent uptick in the overall number of people experiencing acute hunger since the start of 2020 – as well as Nigeria, Somalia and the Sudan, according to a synthesis report presented today by the Global Network. The report provides an update on the 55 countries that were identified by the Network in early 2020 as already being in food crises as of late 2019. Large increases in the overall number of acutely hungry people have been registered in northern Nigeria (a 73 percent increase, to 8.7 million people), Somalia (67 percent increase, to 3.5 million people) and the Sudan (64 percent increase, to 9.6 million people, or nearly a quarter of the country’s population).

In terms of the prevalence of acute food insecurity among a country’s population, four countries (Central African RepublicHondurasLesotho and Somalia) have experienced an increase of more than 10 percentage points in the share of people facing acute hunger. In the Central African Republic, for example, today half the total population is so food insecure that they require urgent assistance.

The acute hunger situation is also deteriorating in Eswatini, Haiti and Honduras. 

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