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Global targets to eradicate hunger by 2030 will be missed as a “toxic cocktail” of the climate crisis, conflict and the Covid-19 pandemic reverses progress, new projections have revealed.

The fight to end hunger is “dangerously off track” and the UN sustainable development goal of zero hunger “tragically distant”, according to the 2021 Global Hunger Index (GHI), published on Thursday. Forty-seven countries will fail to achieve even low levels of hunger (ie countries that have adequate food and low numbers of child deaths) by 2030 and millions of people will experience severe hunger in the coming years.

The findings come amid warnings from the UN’s food agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), that an average temperature rise of 2C from pre-industrial levels will mean 189 million more people going hungry.

Hunger levels around the world have been declining since 2000, according to the GHI, a tool to measure and track hunger developed by NGO Concern Worldwide and German humanitarian aid agency Welthungerhilfe. But progress is slowing, showing “signs of stagnating or even being reversed”.

Sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia have the highest levels of hunger.

The GHI score is calculated using four indicators, including undernourishment, child wasting (children under the age of five with low weight to height ratio), child stunting (children under the age of five with low height for their age) and child mortality rates.

Undernourishment is particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa, while south Asia has high levels of child wasting.

Countries are ranked on a 100-point scale: a score of 50 or above is classified as “extremely alarming”. Somalia, with a rating of 50.8, is the only country out of 135 ranked to fall into this category.

At least five countries have levels of hunger that are “alarming” – Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Yemen. A further 31 countries have “serious” levels of hunger.

Fourteen countries succeeded in reducing their GHI score by a quarter between 2012 and 2021.

A camp for internally displaced people, Somalia. The country is the only one of the 135 ranked to fall into the extremely ‘alarming’ category.
A camp for internally displaced people, Somalia. The country is the only one of the 135 ranked to fall into the extremely ‘alarming’ category. Photograph: Mahamud Utaama/The Guardian

“A toxic cocktail of climate crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and increasingly severe and protracted violent conflicts is threatening to wipe out any progress made against hunger in recent years,” said Dominic MacSorley, Concern’s chief executive.

“Violent conflict is now the primary cause of hunger, and it is worsening food security and malnutrition around the world at a ferocious rate this year,” he said. “The GHI report shows that conflict is a major driver of hunger in eight of the 10 countries with hunger levels classified as ‘alarming’ or ‘extremely alarming’.”

The report said that in 2020 more than half of the people grappling with undernourishment, which reflects on insufficient calorie intake, lived in countries affected by conflict and violence.

“After decades of decline, the global prevalence of undernourishment – one of the four indicators used to calculate GHI scores – is increasing,” the report says. “This shift may be a harbinger of reversals in other measures of hunger.”

David Beasley, the WFP’s executive director, said: “Large swathes of the globe, from Madagascar to Honduras to Bangladesh, are in the throes of a climate crisis that is now a daily reality for millions. The climate crisis is fuelling a food crisis.”

The agency said tens of thousands of lives are at risk in southern Madagascar, where famine-like conditions have been driven by climate breakdown. Consecutive droughts have pushed nearly 1.1 million people into severe hunger.


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