Risk of food insecurity continues to lurk

The threat of epidemics has subsided, but world food security continues to face a series of serious challenges from climate change, which causes droughts, floods, and geopolitical conflicts that lead to supply chain disruptions. The risk for food insecurity still lurks, especially among the world's poorest.
Illustrative image. (Photo: Getty Images)
Illustrative image. (Photo: Getty Images)

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), there are currently about 828 million people in the world who are affected by hunger and this number has been steadily increasing over the past few years.

In addition, an estimated 2.3 billion people faced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2021, bringing the number of people unable to access a healthy diet to 3.1 billion people, or about 40% of humanity.

Many countries cannot continue to produce food as before due to climate change, global warming, population growth, and resource depletion. The most vulnerable groups are those most affected by the risk of food insecurity. Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen all remain on the ‘highest alert’ as hotspots.

Globally, one person is estimated to starve to death every four seconds, as reported nearly by 200 aid groups in September, while a record 345 million people are suffering from acute hunger.

Climate change is still rated as the biggest risk to global food security as floods, droughts and heat waves are damaging crops on all continents. In Pakistan, the recent heavy rains have submerged up to a third of the country, destroying infrastructure and washing away arable land and people's trees. Even before the floods, some 38 million Pakistanis, more than 16% of the population, were living in moderate or severe food insecurity, meaning they were uncertain about being able to obtain food or at times have gone without eating at all, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Meanwhile, unprecedented drought brings the threat of starvation to millions in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

Violence and armed conflict make the goal of ensuring food security in vulnerable areas even more fragile. The United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) said that the combined effects of conflict, drought, floods, a desert locust invasion, market turmoil, rising food prices, and the coronavirus pandemic have left an estimated 13.6 million people in northern Ethiopia in food insecurity. The resurgence of conflicts has seriously affected humanitarian activities in this area. In the "hot spot" of Tigray, WFP can only reach about 10% of the mothers and children in need of nutritional support.

The outbreak of conflict between the world's two major grain exporters, Russia and Ukraine, has seriously affected the food supply chain. The United Nations called all parties to make every effort to resume and extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which will contribute to removing obstacles to the transportation of grain to countries struggling with food crises and starvation. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, about 82 million people in sub-Saharan Africa were at risk of food insecurity. The conflict in Ukraine, if not resolved, could contribute to increasing the number of people facing famine there to 123 million by the end of 2022.

The rapid increase in global interest rates is like a "blowback" to the food security system. Rising interest rates mean that the countries with large debt payment arrears will have problems accessing international capital markets. The IMF estimates that the impact of higher import costs for food and fertiliser for those highly exposed to food insecurity will add 9 billion USD to their balance of payments pressures in 2022 and 2023. This will erode countries’ international reserves along with their ability to pay for food and fertiliser imports.

Global challenges always need solutions on a global scale. The current food crisis requires a better coordinated and holistic approach to ensure maximum efficiency of resources. Ensuring food security is the foundation in helping to reduce poverty, improve people's living standards, and move towards a sustainable and inclusive future.