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Food insecurity up in world’s 20 hunger hotspots: FAO, WFP

Food 2022-02-14, 8:10pm

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There will be no hunger in the world if foods are not wasted



Geneva, 13 Feb (Kanaga Raja) – Acute food insecurity is likely to deteriorate further across 20 countries and regions, also called “hunger hotspots”, during the period from February to May 2022, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have said.

In their latest Hunger Hotspots report, FAO/WFP said that Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen remain at the highest alert level, as all these countries had parts of their populations identified or projected to experience starvation and death (Catastrophe, Integrated Food Security Phase Classification – IPC – Phase 5), requiring the most urgent attention.

“Organized violence or conflict remains the primary drivers, actual or potential, for acute hunger in the 20 hunger hotspots as well as globally,” said FAO/WFP.

Weather extremes such as heavy rains, tropical storms, hurricanes, flooding, drought and climate variability remain significant drivers in some countries and regions, they added.

“The ongoing La Nina conditions additionally lead to an elevated risk of a two-year sequence of dry conditions, particularly in East Africa and Central Asia.”

Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, global and national economic disruptions caused by several contagion waves have escalated while new variants bring new uncertainties and might negatively affect their economies, said FAO/WFP.

Overall, high food prices and low household purchasing power are major economic concerns for further increasing acute food insecurity, they also noted.

Targeted humanitarian action is urgently needed to save lives and livelihoods in the 20 hunger hotspots, they said.

Moreover, in four of these hotspots – Ethiopia, Nigeria South Sudan and Yemen – humanitarian actions are critical to preventing starvation and death, FAO/WFP emphasized.

UPCOMING TRENDS IN ACUTE FOOD INSECURITY

Highlighting the risks to their outlook due to organized violence and conflict in several countries, FAO/WFP said that in the Central African Republic, Central Sahel, the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Ethiopia, northern Nigeria, northern Mozambique, Myanmar, the Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen, conflict or organized violence remain key drivers of acute food insecurity.

Violence has reduced people’s access to, and the availability of food by displacing populations, limiting their access to agricultural land and other livelihoods, and disrupting commercial trade and services and markets, they said.

Movement restrictions, administrative impediments and supply chain disruptions have also hampered humanitarian operations, compounding the direct impact of conflict.

These trends are likely to continue or intensify in all these countries in the outlook period, said the joint report.

Highlighting the risks to the outlook posed by natural hazards, FAO/WFP said that weather and climate extremes, driven among other factors by the ongoing 2021/22 La Nina episode, a second consecutive event, are expected to continue.

There is very high likelihood for La Nina, at 67 percent through May, and at about 50 percent through June 2022.

FAO/WFP said this puts some countries in the Greater Horn of Africa, Asia and the Pacific at high risk of below average production and experiencing worsening food insecurity conditions.

In Afghanistan, La Nina is likely to affect both the ongoing winter and forthcoming spring agricultural seasons, and to result in reduced production and livestock losses in large parts of the country.

FAO/WFP said that the forecast below-average rainfall and snow-pack in mountainous areas could also reduce water availability for irrigation.

In the Syrian Arab Republic, the report said consecutive below-average rainfall and resulting drought conditions, due to the ongoing La Nina event, are expected to negatively affect the current agricultural season.

“This applies particularly to key agricultural producing provinces in the northeast, resulting in reduced production and increasing food prices.”

In Eastern Africa, seasonal forecasts for the upcoming long-rains season are still uncertain, with models suggesting mixed signals.

However, recent analysis indicates the possibility of a fourth consecutive poor season in parts of East Africa, with the potential for profound food insecurity implications, said FAO/WFP.

“Due to consecutive poor harvests over the past three seasons in some areas of East Africa, vulnerable households will not be able to sufficiently replenish their food stocks, even if the upcoming season turns out to be good.”

In South Sudan, long-range forecasts indicate an above-average rainfall season, starting in April. This could lead to good prospects for crops but also increase the risk of major floods in some areas, resulting in displacement and crop damages, said FAO/WFP.

Consecutive below-average rainfall is expected during the ongoing agricultural season in southern and southwestern provinces of Angola, which is likely to reduce production and lead to crop losses for a third consecutive year.

In southern Madagascar, below-average rainfall is forecast for the remainder of current agricultural season in areas that are still facing the residual impacts of a severe drought in 2021, said FAO/WFP.

In addition, eastern Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel are facing an enhanced number of tropical cyclones this year, increasing the risk of flooding in coastal areas of both countries.

In Haiti, current long-range forecasts suggest below-average rainfall for the upcoming first rainy season (March to June) which coincides with the main maize-producing season, especially in areas that have already suffered rainfall deficits over the past two seasons.

Highlighting some key economic risks to their outlook, the FAO/WFP report said that the 5.9 percent recovery of the world economy in 2021 does not conceal the ongoing pandemic-related disruptions that continue to exacerbate the severity of economic conditions in numerous countries.

“Most salient is soaring headline inflation, which has been triggered by disrupted supply chains and increasing fuel and energy prices.”

Global food prices were also spiking in 2021, boosted by shortfalls in main food-producing countries. Adding to income losses caused by the pandemic, rising prices have contributed to further reducing household purchasing power, said FAO/WFP.

Despite some improvements compared to 2020, the World Bank estimated that 97 million more people were living in poverty in 2021 compared to 2019, due to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike in developed and emerging economies, the 2021 economic bounce-back was weaker in most developing countries, whose economies only grew by 3 percent on average, said FAO/WFP.

Especially in low-income countries, where 91.5 percent of the population were not vaccinated as of January 2022, new COVID-19 variants have led to new, severe outbreaks.

FAO/WFP said many of the economic disturbances listed in the country narratives of their report, such as high inflation rates, soaring food prices, currency depreciation, disrupted labour markets and widening budget deficits, are caused or reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most drastic economic deteriorations occurred in those countries that were going through distress before 2020.

The FAO/WFP report said in those low-income countries with low vaccination rates, the mentioned longer-term economic disturbances caused by earlier contagion waves have been further exacerbated by disruptions caused by the introduction of new movement restrictions during the pandemic’s current phase.

The onset of the highly contagious and already fast-spreading Omicron variant has the potential to further delay the global recovery throughout 2022, FAO/WFP cautioned.

Due to the commodity dependence of most low-income countries, increasing commodity prices strongly affected their economies in 2021, they added.

Whereas net commodity importers have struggled with financing their energy and fuel purchases, the balance of trade of net commodity exporters has seen slight improvements in 2021.

As most commodity prices are predicted to plateau at high levels in 2022, revenues are expected to increase for exporting countries, supporting their currencies.

However, said FAO/WFP, despite the improving macroeconomic stability of these countries, the situation of their poor and vulnerable households remains highly uncertain over the short run.

An additional threat to increased food insecurity in developing countries is the currently soaring price of fertilizers, which might lead to their reduced use and diminished crop yields in 2022, they added.

Despite a brief reduction in mid-2021, the FAO Food Price Index has been continuously increasing since May 2020, said the joint report.

FAO/WFP said that in December 2021, the global food price index averaged 133.7 points, down 1.2 points (0.9 percent) from November, which represented the highest rate of the past 10 years, but still up 25.1 points (23.1 percent) from December 2020.

Vegetable oils have recorded the highest rise among food items in 2021. In November 2021, the FAO Cereal Price Index also reached its highest level since May 2011, while, slightly lower in December 2021, the average prices of staple food increased 23 percent year-on-year.

For 2022, the World Bank expects that the upward pressure on agricultural prices will remain strong, which would leave many poor households worldwide vulnerable to food insecurity, said FAO/WFP.

They noted that several countries of the Near East and North Africa, many of which were already facing structural macroeconomic challenges prior to the pandemic, have experienced significant economic difficulties in 2021 which have exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities.

FAO/WFP said that depleted foreign reserves, severe currency depreciation and soaring food prices, as part of an unprecedented economic crisis in Lebanon, have continued to push large parts of the population into poverty and food insecurity.

In the conflict-torn countries of the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen, food insecurity levels have also risen due to growing difficulties in financing imports, along with liquidity shortages and extreme price spikes.

In 2021, the developing economies of Central and Eastern Asia, characterized by low vaccination rates, have been severely disrupted by the eruption of new COVID-19 contagion waves, said FAO/WFP.

In Afghanistan, the economic situation has significantly deteriorated since the political transition in August.

A tumbling currency, soaring inflation and depleting monetary reserves are expected to have pushed well over 90 percent of the population into poverty.

“With no improvements of the situation in sight, increasing food insecurity in the country is pushing the need for humanitarian support to conspicuously high levels,” said the joint report.

It noted that in Myanmar, poverty and food insecurity are further rising, due to ongoing violent conflicts and the lingering economic crisis that has followed the military takeover at the beginning of 2021.

Latin America remains the region which has experienced the largest economic losses, in gross domestic product (GDP) terms, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and measures taken to contain its spread, said FAO/WFP.

The ongoing economic crisis in Haiti, characterized by a weakening currency and soaring inflation, has led to a further reduction of purchasing power for many poor and vulnerable households.

In both Honduras and Colombia, despite gradual recovery from the contraction in 2020, still-depressed employment opportunities, coupled with rising prices and declining purchasing power, are exacerbating economic losses caused by the pandemic.

In many African countries, economic disturbances have been piling up in 2021, while record-high food prices have reduced households’ access to food in many regions, said FAO/WFP.

“In countries like South Sudan and Somalia, high fuel prices and transportation costs have further boosted food inflation in remote areas.”

In Ethiopia, the ongoing conflict and accompanying uncertainties have continued to worsen economic performance.

FAO/WFP said reduced investment inflows and export revenues have compounded the country’s liquidity shortages and the depletion of foreign-currency reserves, affecting the sustainability of the external debt.

The joint report said the resulting currency depreciation and terms-of-trade deterioration are boosting prices and declining the population’s purchasing power.

After some signs of improvement in the first months of 2021, the Sudan’s renewed political uncertainty has caused a new and dangerous economic impasse, it added.

In particular, uncertainties about foreign economic support could further destabilize the local currency and increase already high food prices.

The FAO/WFP report also pointed to the potential threat posed by animal and plant pests and diseases.

For instance, it noted that starting in early 2020, a massive desert locust upsurge broke out across greater Eastern Africa, Southwest Asia, and the area around the Red Sea, as favourable climatic conditions allowed widespread breeding of the pest.

After months of combating this destructive migratory pest in the affected regions, growing evidence shows that the upsurge is recessing. However, the upsurge is not yet declared over, said FAO/WFP.

Current efforts to reduce swarm formation should be maintained in the Horn of Africa, while in other regions the situation is projected to be calm, they added.

They said that small, immature swarms were forming in northeast Somalia at the end of 2021. Although control operations in northeast Somalia were limiting the number and size of immature swarms, a southwards migration was likely to be passing over central Somalia and eastern Ethiopia to reach southeast Ethiopia, northeast Kenya, and southern Somalia.

“By the time swarms mature and are ready to lay eggs, conditions in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya are unlikely to be favourable due to the dry season; therefore, the swarms may remain immature until the long rains arrive in April-May, which would allow maturation and egg-laying.”

Field teams are expected to have the necessary resources, experience and time to control the swarms before April, and bring the current upsurge to an end, said FAO/WFP.

In the Grand Sud region of Madagascar, the performance of the ongoing agricultural season is likely to be affected by a Malagasy migratory locust outbreak observed since August 2021, they added.

“The locust threat is occurring in a context of critical rates of food insecurity and malnutrition – a result of three consecutive years of severe drought, poor harvests and people’s hampered access to food.”

If the locust situation were to deteriorate further to the point of an upsurge, an even larger area of Madagascar would be directly threatened, FAO/WFP underlined.

Urgent and scaled-up assistance is required in all 20 hunger hotspots, to protect livelihoods and increase access to food, said FAO/WFP, adding that this is essential to avert a further deterioration of food insecurity or malnutrition.

“In the countries of highest concern, the provision of humanitarian assistance is crucial to save lives and prevent starvation, death, and the total collapse of livelihoods.”

However, FAO/WFP said that humanitarian access is limited in various ways, including through insecurity due to organized violence or conflict, presence of administrative or bureaucratic impediments, movement restrictions, and physical constraints related to the environment.

- Third World Network