InternationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 05

How can we end the hunger pandemic?

As 2022 comes to a close, we are facing a food crisis worse than any other in recent memory. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), more than 828 million people are going to bed hungry every night. The number of those facing acute food insecurity has more than doubled, from 135 million to 345 million, since 2019, and nearly 50 million people are already on the verge of starvation. Unless immediate action is taken, the coming year will be defined by unprecedented levels of hunger.

This crisis did not come out of the blue. The combined consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and climate change, from disrupted supply chains and soaring inflation to extreme weather events, gradually left millions of people all over the world unable to put food on their tables. While this food crisis is indisputably global, it is not affecting everyone the same. Some of the countries and communities that were already suffering from conflict, political instability and extreme poverty are also shouldering the worst of this most recent crisis.

Take the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for example, which includes some of the world’s most food-insecure countries such as Syria (113th on the Global Food Security Index) and Yemen (111th). Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, some 55 million people living in the region were undernourished.

As the pandemic and the war in Ukraine disrupted supply chains, hindered deliveries of essential grains, and caused unprecedented increases in commodity prices and energy costs, countries across the region started experiencing shortages of the most basic food items. Countries that were already suffering from conflict or economic crises (such as Yemen and Lebanon) took the hardest hit. Traditionally, the international community – led by United Nations institutions and international NGOs – tries to address regional food crises with humanitarian aid appeals and campaigns that aim to meet the most immediate needs of affected populations. But the global catastrophe we are now walking towards cannot be addressed with humanitarian aid alone. A new approach is required.

A “triple nexus” approach, which, as defined by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “utilises the combined expertise of the sustainable development, peacebuilding and conflict mitigation, and humanitarian aid sectors in overcoming collective challenges” could be the answer. The triple nexus approach requires humanitarian aid, development and peacebuilding actors to work together on long-term initiatives that aim to reinforce (not replace) national and local systems. With this approach, the ultimate goal is not only to resolve but also to anticipate and prevent crises. It aspires to reduce people’s needs, risks and vulnerabilities while increasing their resilience.

The UN agreed to adopt such an approach to crisis resolution, dubbed “the New Way of Working”, at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. In the years since, however, this approach has only been implemented on a project-by-project basis.

If we are to overcome the interconnected challenges leading to hunger across the world today, the triple nexus approach should not be a characteristic of some UN projects in certain localities alone – it should be the basis of all crisis resolution efforts. Our world is becoming more polarised every day, with social cohesion eroding and conflict increasing. Actors involved in the conflict seem to be under the impression that they can resolve all major problems affecting their allies by definitively defeating their adversaries. But the global food crisis we are currently facing is proof that they are wrong.

This crisis is a testament to the high levels of interdependence in the modern world. It demonstrates we cannot continue with an “Us vs Them” rhetoric while “our” wellbeing is so deeply reliant on “their” actions and vice versa.

In a world where a conflict in Eastern Europe can leave people struggling with hunger in the MENA region, the only way to resolve crises and protect lives is through solidarity and collaboration. Thus the UN should view the Ukraine war and its devastating effect on international food and energy markets as an opportunity to demonstrate the need for the adoption of the triple nexus approach at a global scale.

All UN agencies, national governments, aid organisations and donors desperate to mitigate the economic consequences of the Ukraine war should strive to coordinate and collaborate so that they can go beyond addressing the immediate needs of affected populations and help them become more resilient to such crises.

In our interconnected world, ensuring that there is food on everyone’s table is highly dependent on leaders thinking proactively and prioritising their people’s wellbeing over their ideological alliances. An example of such proactive thinking is the Turkish brokered July 22 deal between Russia and Ukraine that ensured the continuation of Ukrainian wheat exports to Lebanon (a country that imports 72 percent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine). The arrangement not only prevented severe shortages of core food items in a country already on the verge of economic collapse, but triggered a much-needed dialogue between the two warring parties.

Today, the world is facing a never before seen web of crises that will continue to have severe consequences for many years to come. If the international community is to respond to this unprecedented food crisis effectively, it needs to ensure humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors are working together to come up with processes and initiatives that will not only meet people’s immediate needs such as food and shelter but also strengthen resilience. Meanwhile, leaders should be moving away from polarising politics and towards benefit optimisation that may at times require the bending or breaking of ideological fronts. A world without hunger is still possible, but only if we work together.