The World Food Programme recently warned that 2021 could be a catastrophic year of humanitarian crises, with famine “literally on the horizon”. In this blog we explore the circumstances that can lead to famine, which countries are at risk and what we can do to prevent it.
Famine is generally defined as an ‘extreme scarcity of food’, but for famine to be declared certain conditions must be met. These are:
- One in five households in an area are facing an extreme lack of food
- 30 per cent of children are suffering from acute malnutrition
- Two people out of every 10,000 are dying every day due to starvation or malnutrition and disease.
Famines have occurred throughout history, all over the world. Although there is technically enough food being produced to feed every person on Earth, there are reasons people in famine-affected areas can’t get enough, such as increases in the cost of food or crop production being prevented. These dire circumstances can be created by many factors - from disease outbreaks to recession, conflict, displacement, political unrest and climate change - many of which are at play right now.
Since 2014, the number of people affected by hunger across the globe has slowly been on the rise. Increasing conflict, economic crises and climate disasters have made accessing affordable, nutritious food a challenging task in some of the world’s poorest places. Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, projections indicated that the world was not on track to achieve Zero Hunger, one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, by 2030.
Now, the coronavirus pandemic has further disrupted food systems. For those who rely on farming to eat and earn a living, the economic decline has led to sharp increases in the cost of tools and seeds, while border closures and travel restrictions have reduced food supplies for countries dependent on imports and humanitarian aid.
These circumstances mean that many families are struggling to put food on the table, let alone meals with nutritious value. The World Food Programme projected that Covid-19 could push 265 million people into acute food insecurity by the end of last year, almost double 2019’s total. Among this number are hundreds of thousands of children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women - all of whom are significantly at risk of malnutrition.