OPN hunger
Weather disasters, like heatwaves and hurricanes, have pushed millions into poverty and hunger Image Credit: Gulf News

In the shadow of a global food crisis, the world’s most vulnerable populations are caught in a vicious cycle of conflict, climate change, and hunger. The numbers are staggering; over 330 million people faced acute hunger in 2023.

This distressing reality is exacerbated by the accelerating climate crisis and multiplying conflicts, which together create a “hellscape of hunger and heartache,” as António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, recently described it.

The 2024 Global Report on Food Crises reveals that escalating conflicts, climate change, and economic shocks are driving more people into acute hunger, threatening progress towards the goal of ending hunger by 2030.

The report, a collaborative effort by the UN FAO, WFP, and UNICEF, found that 281.6 million people in 59 crisis countries faced high levels of acute hunger in 2023, an increase of 24 million from the previous year.

Climate change and conflicts are driving global hunger, affecting nearly 174 million people. In regions like Syria and Myanmar, the impact is particularly severe. In Syria, after a decade of war and a devastating earthquake, almost 13 million people face hunger daily. In Myanmar, political instability has halted progress in the fight against hunger.

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The drivers of ongoing food crises are deeply interlinked and mutually reinforcing, creating a complex web of factors contributing to acute food insecurity. Acute food insecurity is rarely caused by a single event but rather by the interaction of multiple shocks with underlying vulnerabilities.

Conflict emerges as a major driver and amplifier of acute food insecurity, directly affecting food access and availability and significantly diminishing the ability of communities and countries to cope with additional shocks like extreme weather events.

Conflict not only disrupts food systems but also reverses economic and development gains, further limiting resilience and recovery capacities.

The present global context is marked by ongoing climate change, the lingering economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine, which collectively exacerbated food insecurity. Additionally, renewed intense conflicts, particularly in the Gaza Strip and Sudan, have severe national and regional impacts.

The conflict in Sudan has resulted in the largest internal displacement globally by the end of 2023, with millions fleeing to neighbouring countries like Central African Republic, Chad, and South Sudan. This displacement has intensified competition for already scarce resources, exacerbating food insecurity and malnutrition.

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Acute food insecurity

In Gaza, around 80 per cent of the population became internally displaced due to the ongoing conflict, thereby severely limiting access to food and basic services and increasing famine risks.

The link between hunger and conflict is clear and devastating. Where wars rage, hunger reigns. The displacement of people, the destruction of agriculture, the damage to infrastructure, and deliberate policies of denial, all contribute to acute food insecurity. In 2023, the number of active state-based armed conflicts has risen to 59, the highest ever recorded by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program.

A UNICEF report reveals that increased conflict and extreme weather due to climate change are worsening food crises, with over one in four children facing severe hunger. In 2022, 27% of children under the age of five suffered from severe food poverty globally.

South Asia is particularly affected, with two in five infants in food poverty, especially in Afghanistan and India. Children worldwide are severely impacted, with 36.4 million acutely malnourished under the age of 5 in conflict-affected countries. Of these 9.8 million are in the urgent need of treatment.

Not only is the world witnessing more conflicts, but climate change is also accelerating faster than anticipated and posing severe global threats. Sea levels are rising due to melting glaciers and ice sheets, threatening farmlands, and displacing millions.

Climate change is causing soil degradation, reducing food production, and limiting water availability. Weather-related disasters, such as heatwaves and hurricanes, are increasing in frequency and intensity, destroying agriculture and pushing millions into poverty and hunger.

Resource scarcity

Climate disasters and conflicts exacerbate inequalities, threaten livelihoods, and force people out from their homes. This interlinkage has profound implications for global peace and security. The increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and the greater frequency of climate extremes are wreaking havoc on food security.

The populations most at risk are those who depend on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods. These rural communities are not only the hardest hit by climate change but also the most prone to conflicts arising from resource scarcity.

Conflict-induced deaths and displacement and climate-induced disasters collectively contribute to the high levels of acute hunger observed globally. Efforts to address these crises require a comprehensive approach that considers the complex interplay of these drivers, with a focus on building resilience and improving food security in vulnerable regions.

There is no food security without peace, and no peace without food security. Half of the world’s hungry live in conflict-affected zones, where the effects of climate change are most pronounced. The international community must prioritise bringing a negotiated end to armed conflicts and turbocharging progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly the goal of zero hunger. This necessitates investment in adaptation, resilience, and clean energy.

The time for action is now. As Secretary-General Guterres poignantly notes, the world cannot afford to ignore the confluence of climate, conflict, and hunger. Addressing these intertwined crises requires global cooperation and a commitment to sustainable solutions.

Governments, international organisations, and civil society must come together to implement policies that mitigate the impacts of climate change, resolve conflicts, and ensure food security for all. The future of millions depends on it.