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Urgent action needed as millions across the globe are ‘one step away from starvation’

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People in 20 countries around the world are facing acute hunger over the next few months, with parts of South Sudan already in famine. 

Two United Nations agencies – the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) – have identified 20 “hunger hotspots” where food shortages are likely to get worse over the coming months with South Sudan, Yemen and northern Nigeria at the highest risk. 

Already, over 34 million people are facing emergency levels of acute hunger – meaning they are one step away from starvation – across the world.

Warnings over famine have been building since the start of the pandemic as factors including conflict, extreme weather and economic shock have been exacerbated by Covid lockdowns.

“The magnitude of suffering is alarming. It is incumbent upon all of us to act now and to act fast to save lives, safeguard livelihoods and prevent the worst situation,” said FAO director-general Qu Dongyu.

“In many regions, the planting season has just started or is about to start. We must run against the clock and not let this opportunity to protect, stabilise and even possibly increase local food production slip away,” he added.

WFP executive director David Beasley described the global hunger crisis as a “catastrophe unfolding before our very eyes”.

The report warns that a famine is already underway in Jonglei State in South Sudan and urgent action is needed to stop “widespread starvation and death”. 

A further 7.2 million people in the country are also facing “crisis” levels of hunger – the third on a five-point hunger classification scale with famine at the top. 

Violence is the main driver of food insecurity in the country, with severe flooding last year making the crisis worse. 

In Yemen around 47,000 people are facing famine and around 16 million people have very limited access to food, the report warns. Earlier this month the WFP said one child dies in Yemen every 75 seconds because of hunger.

And it says that the number of people receiving food assistance will fall from 13.5 million to just over six million because of a reduction in humanitarian assistance.

Earlier this month the UK government revealed that it was slashing aid funding to Yemen from £214 million in 2020 to £87 million this year. It made the announcement at a UN donor conference, which raised less than half the £2.8 billion needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in the beleaguered country.

And in Borno State in northern Nigeria the number of people facing emergency levels of food insecurity is set to double to 1.2 million this year because of conflict and a lack of humanitarian access.

At the beginning of the year the UN warned that Burkina Faso was also facing extreme food insecurity but the situation has improved slightly after a better than expected harvest and the delivery of food assistance to areas at risk. However, the situation is still “very concerning”, the report warns, as violence is likely to continue. 

The report also sounded the alarm over Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti and Sudan where people are already dying of starvation. The report estimates that around 12 million people in these countries are suffering crisis or emergency levels of hunger.

In addition, the report also warned that around half a million people in Central African Republic, Zimbabwe and Honduras are facing emergency levels of hunger. 

Mr Beasley added: “We urgently need three things to stop millions from dying of starvation: the fighting has to stop, we must be allowed access to vulnerable communities to provide life-saving help, and above all we need donors to step up with the US$ 5.5 billion we are asking for this year.”

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