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The world must come together to break the cycle of hunger and avert widespread famine

With the media’s focus on global migration and the horrifying events in Syria last year, it was easy to miss another major story of humanitarian need.

In our new briefing: Breaking the cycle, we argue that concerted action in three key areas can bring significant benefits in tackling the global hunger crisis.

Terezinha Zhuwao, 74, prepares an evening meal for herself and her family in a temporary camp for flood affected families at Khulubvi school, Nsanje, Malawi.

Hunger and malnutrition crises affected many parts of the world in 2016, but these were disasters in slow motion, unfolding over many months across different regions, and so were under reported. However, for the millions affected, the suffering was inescapable. 

  • In Malawi more than 6.5 million people required food assistance following disastrous droughts caused by the El Niño climate system.
  • Conflict in north-eastern Nigeria led to major displacement and a catastrophic food crisis with at least 5.1 million severely food insecure.
  • In Yemen, escalation of the conflict compounded pre-existing hunger and poverty to leave over half the population in urgent need of food 

Elsewhere in the world, hunger caused suffering to many millions more as a range of factors such as conflict, changing climate patterns, and entrenched poverty prevented people growing or getting access to the nutritious food they need.

And at the start of 2017, with a lack of available funding to meet urgent needs, the suffering has no end in sight. The latest report from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, FEWSNET estimates that 70 million people across 45 countries will require emergency food assistance this year, with four countries: Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen facing a credible risk of famine.

The current situation is undoubtedly grim but organisations such as Concern have been battling to eliminate hunger for many years and our experience suggests that hunger can be beaten, with the right approach and the political commitment to do so.

In our briefing: Breaking the cycle, we argue that concerted action in three key areas can bring significant benefits in tackling the global hunger crisis.

  1. Address the immediate and underlying causes of undernutrition – Early nutrition interventions can reduce the long-term impact of food crises on vulnerable people, particularly children, preventing the impairment of their physical and mental development and reducing the likelihood of poor health in the future.
  2. Build resilience to help communities withstand recurring food crises  - By helping people prepare for and  adapt to the risks they face through measures such as growing climate resistant crops or building grain reserves for tough times ahead, we can support  them to be stronger in the face of recurring disasters.
  3. Deliver rapid and flexible humanitarian assistance targeted at those who need it most - Delivering support quickly and in a way which is tailored to the specific needs of vulnerable people can prevent a  serious situation become a humanitarian disaster.  The cost of food crises, both human and economic, can be hugely reduced if people are reached early and with the right support.

Ending hunger for good requires concerted action and political will across these three areas.  Countries have made commitments on all three in a number of recent international policy frameworks. The international community must now focus on implementing these agreements, in particular the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction as well as commitments made at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. 

The next twelve months presents us therefore with huge challenges but also with a major opportunity to tackle hunger and malnutrition.  If we can pull together to respond to people’s urgent needs while also tackling the root causes of food crises, whether these are economic, climatic or political,  we have the chance to hugely reduce the number of people who go to bed hungry every night, both now and in the future.

Hunger Hotspots map

Want to take action?

At the 2015 election the government promised to improve the nutrition of 50 million of the world’s poorest people. However without urgent investment in nutrition programmes the government will miss this target and break its promises to 50 million people and the UK electorate. Sign our petition now and tell Theresa May to honour the promise.