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COVID-19 impacts driving up acute hunger in countries already in food crisis

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Pandemic aggravates pre-existing drivers of acute food insecurity - Democratic Republic of the Congo is now world’s largest food crisis. FAO and partners call for urgent and decisive action.

15 September 2020, New York - The Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) today held a high-level event to present a review of the most recent global data available on how the knock-on effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are driving up acute hunger in vulnerable countries that were already wracked by food crises even before the novel coronavirus arrived on the scene. The meeting was also important for international resource partners and relevant actors to discuss emerging priorities, financing and programming implications in light of COVID-19.

New data related to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, reveal that the central African nation has now become the world's largest food crisis in terms of absolute numbers of the acutely food-insecure - a staggering 21.8 million people. This, as the impacts of COVID-19 related control measures aggravated pre-existing hunger drivers in the country: insecurity and armed conflict, an extended economic slump, and heavy rains and flooding.

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, QU Dongyu, told the event, convened on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, that it was critical to work together before the situation deteriorates and, focusing on prevention and early warning systems and actions.

Qu also highlighted the importance of data collection and "global differentiation", which are the basis of FAO's Hand-in-Hand, an initiative aimed at partnering developed countries with those most in need to accelerate agri-food system transformation and sustainable rural development. He noted that the Hand-in-Hand Initiative includes the recently-launched Geospatial Platform for data collection.

To support countries and farmers to address persistent challenges related to food and agriculture and build back better from the pandemic, FAO has also launched the comprehensive FAO COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, which aims to mitigate the immediate impacts of the pandemic while strengthening the long-term resilience of food systems and livelihoods. Supporting the most vulnerable people, by promoting economic inclusion and social protection and boosting smallholder resilience, is among the top priorities.

Mark Lowcock, the United Nations' Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the high-level side event that the current food crisis was the biggest the world had seen for 50 years but stressed that it was not too late to act to prevent acute hunger from becoming a long-lasting problem.

The EU Commissioners for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič, and for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, called for stronger coordination among humanitarian and development actors, and ensured the commitment of the European Union to strengthen the GNAFC.

Additional speakers today included Nick Dyer, United Kingdom's Special Envoy for Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs; Jenny McGee, Associate Administrator for Relief, Response and Resilience of the United States Agency for International Development; Peter Eriksson, Sweden's Minister for International Development Cooperation; Djimé Adoum, CILSS Executive Secretary; WFP Assistant Executive Director Valerie Guarneri; and Susanna Moorehead, Chair of the OECD's Development Assistance Committee.

Hunger hotspots continue to heat up

In addition to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the worst deteriorations in acute hunger in recent months have taken place in Burkina Faso - which has witnessed a nearly 300 percent uptick in the overall number of people experiencing acute hunger since the start of 2020 - as well as Nigeria, Somalia and the Sudan, according to a synthesis report presented today by the Global Network. The report provides an update on the 55 countries that were identified by the Network in early 2020 as already being in food crises as of late 2019. Large increases in the overall number of acutely hungry people have been registered in northern Nigeria (a 73 percent increase, to 8.7 million people), Somalia (67 percent increase, to 3.5 million people) and the Sudan (64 percent increase, to 9.6 million people, or nearly a quarter of the country's population).

In terms of the prevalence of acute food insecurity among a country's population, four countries (Central African Republic, Honduras, Lesotho and Somalia) have experienced an increase of more than 10 percentage points in the share of people facing acute hunger. In the Central African Republic, for example, today half the total population is so food insecure that they require urgent assistance.

The acute hunger situation is also deteriorating in Eswatini, Haiti and Honduras, today's report said.

Participants in today's event stressed that these trends underscore the importance not only of maintaining humanitarian assistance to meet these needs, but the longer-term imperative of building more resilient food systems.

The Global Network Against Food Crises was founded in 2016 by the European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Food Programme (WFP). It seeks to better link, integrate and guide existing initiatives, partnerships, programmes and policy processes to sustainably address the root causes of food crises

Acute food insecurity, or acute hunger, is when a person's inability to consume adequate food puts their lives or livelihoods in immediate danger. It is a metric that draws on internationally accepted measures of extreme hunger, such as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) and the Cadre Harmonisé. People can slide into acute hunger rapidly as a result of sudden shocks. Chronic hunger, as reported on each year by the UN's annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, is a different metric. It refers to when a person is unable to consume enough food over an extended period to maintain a normal, active lifestyle.