(Bloomberg) — The global hunger crisis is “exploding” as the war in Ukraine sends prices of key staples even higher, following a 25% spike in food insecurity last year.
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The comment from the chief economist at the World Food Programme came as the Global Network Against Food Crises warned that the hunger problem is expected to “deteriorate further” this year. A gauge of world food prices has soared to a record as the Ukraine war disrupts harvests and exports from one of the world’s top grain and vegetable-oil suppliers.
“The world is exploding with food insecurity,” the WFP’s Arif Husain said Wednesday at a press briefing.
Almost 193 million people across 53 countries or territories suffered acute food insecurity in 2021, meaning their lack of meals posed an immediate threat to their lives or livelihoods, the network said earlier. That’s up from 155 million in 55 countries for the prior year, and a record in the six years since the report began.
Conflicts in countries like Ethiopia and Afghanistan have worsened crises there, and economic shocks from the Covid-19 pandemic curbed food access in almost two dozen nations, the international alliance said in a report. Extreme weather, like severe drought in Madagascar, is also exacerbating the problem.
A gauge of world food prices has soared about 75% since mid-2020 — eclipsing levels seen in 2008 and 2011 that contributed to global food crises — piling pressure on governments from Sri Lanka to Peru.
The invasion of Ukraine is also sparking a wave of protectionism as some exporters curb overseas crop sales to ensure local supplies. The war will have “severe consequences” on global food security, as millions of Ukrainians are displaced and many import-dependent countries can’t get staple crops or fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia, according to the report. It’s also hampering the global economic recovery from the pandemic.
“The war in Ukraine is supercharging a three-dimensional crisis — food, energy and finance — with devastating impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people, countries and economies,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the report.
Early data already indicate the food crisis is worsening. The number facing hunger this year will reach about 180 million in 41 of the countries surveyed last year, plus Cabo Verde. While there’s no forecast yet for the remaining 12 nations, it represents an additional 5 million hungry people across the countries where there are already projections.
The food crises network was founded by the European Union, WFP and UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in 2016.
(Updates with economist comment from first paragraph.)
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