According to the latest report by the World Food Programme, over 800 million people in the world go to bed hungry every night, while the number of those facing acute food insecurity has gone up from 135 million to 345 million. On the other hand, about 50 million people in 45 countries are facing famine conditions.
Experts say that the global food crisis has not yet reached its peak, with predictions that inflation will continue to creep up and by next year, the crisis will further worsen. The UN has warned that the year 2023 might be even more troublesome than the crippling events of 2022, underscored by food prices remaining stubbornly high.
A deadly combination of factors is behind the current world food crisis. Wars and conflicts are the biggest cause of hunger, with 60 percent of the world’s hungry living in war zones or nearby. The ongoing war in Ukraine has forced people out of their homes, depriving them of their sources of income.
Climate shocks also accentuate hunger. Climate change is destroying lives, crops and livelihoods, and undermining people’s ability to feed themselves. Another major factor is the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic which pushed a large proportion of the world’s population below the poverty line. Rising prices and costs of production and transportation have also played a role in exacerbating world hunger.
With the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the crumbling of the breadbasket of Europe, the weaknesses in the world’s interconnected food system have been fully exposed. Before the war, Ukraine produced enough food to feed 400 million people per year. The war had immediate implications for countries that rely heavily on grain imports from both Russia and Ukraine which are major players in global wheat and maize markets.
According to an estimate, 35 African and food insecure countries imported at least a third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia– 18 over 50% – with four countries sourcing over 80% of their wheat from the two nations. These include Eritrea, Somalia, Congo and Laos. As things stand, five or six countries control the production of the most important food commodities such as wheat. So, any disruption of the supply chain affects the whole world whenever there is a problem with any of the producers.
Among other things, high fertilizer costs drive up food prices. The prime examples are Lebanon – 240% food inflation, – Zimbabwe – 309% food inflation,– Venezuela – 155% food inflation – and Sudan – 149% food inflation.
Food inflation together with currency value loss has made purchasing food in international markets a difficult proposition. Food inflation in Germany reached 16.6% year-on-year this August, while the costs of food in the EU increased to 12.8% in July, compared to last year. Similarly, in the US food inflation is higher than the general inflation number (10.9% compared to 8.5% in July).
The tragedy is that the WFP does not have the resources required to help the needy nations. The agency requires US$24 billion to reach 153 million people in 2022. However, with the global economy reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, the gap between needs and funding is bigger than ever before.
It is reported that unless the necessary resources are made available, many lives will be lost and hard-earned development gains will be reversed. Right now it is food prices that are the challenge, not food availability. Food is available but the prices are too high. Farmers face very difficult times as the cost of fertilizers doubled this year. The costs are then passed onto the consumer, resulting in higher prices across all food products.
Experts have opined that to avert the hunger catastrophe the world is facing, everyone must lend a helping hand. Private sector companies can support the UN agencies through technical assistance and knowledge transfers, as well as financial contributions. High net-worth individuals and ordinary citizens alike can all play a part, and youths, influencers and celebrities can raise their voices against the injustice of global hunger. The world has never faced the kind of food crisis it is facing now. This is a historical emergency which can be tackled only through all-inclusive cooperation by all nations of the world.