An alarming state of affairs
After falling from 18.5% of the world’s population in 1990 to 10.9% in 2016, hunger is once again on the rise in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 815 million people were suffering from chronic undernourishment in the world in 2017 versus 777 million in 2016. One fourth of these people live in Africa; half are in Asia. Among them, 90 million people needed emergency food aid in 2017, according to the annual report on food crises from the global strategic program Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). 37 countries, 29 in Africa, are currently considered to suffer from food insecurity by the FAO: their populations no longer have economic or physical access to food, be it in sufficient quantity or quality.
A protean problem
Conflicts, climate change and food prices are three main factors which explain hunger in the world. Worse still, they combine with one another and create a vicious circle. Periods of drought, and notably rainy seasons with low precipitation, hurt harvests and cause shortages which lead to price increases, now steadily rising since 2008. Besides, as World Food Programme head David Beasley says, “climate change aside, […] famines are manmade, resulting from wars begun by humans.” Excluding China and India, 90% of today’s hungry people live in conflict zones. These conflicts disorganize production and “war disrupts the supply of provisions and access to food”, stresses Mark Lowcock, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. From the northeast of Nigeria to Somalia, armed conflicts continue: even if small farmers haven’t fled, they can no longer work the land and humanitarian aid doesn’t always reach the people.
Solutions for the short and long term
In the face of these acute crises, there are many NGO campaigns and fundraising appeals. The United Nations launched a record call for humanitarian aid in December 2017, requesting 22.5 billion dollars from donors. The UN’s estimate for global aid needs in 2018 is enormous, and four famines have been anticipated, a depressing record given that the last one occurred in Somalia in 2012. In Sahel countries alone, according to the same IPC report, 35 million people need emergency food aid.
As Marc Dufumier said in 2014, the problem of world hunger is not one of quantity, but one of unequal distribution and waste. Of the four billion tons of food produced each year, one third is lost. In developed countries, waste is caused by final consumers; in developing countries, the production phase leads to waste due to inadequate storage facilities or inefficient distribution channels. Solutions to reduce losses in the North and to improve storage capacity in the South are being developed. But large global investments in fighting waste, improving food distribution and increasing humanitarian aid will fall short of the 2030 Zero Hunger Challenge set by the United Nations in 2015. For David Beasley, wars must be stopped. “If we could end the wars and the conflicts, I have no doubt we could achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. But at this stage, I don’t see it.”
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