Escalating and protracted conflicts, climate change, and the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 are driving the shocking rise in global food insecurity and malnutrition seen in many parts of the world today. Approximately 282 million people in Africa are undernourished - an increase of 49 million from 2019. COVID-19 has directly killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world and continues to take a deep toll on the food security, nutrition and livelihoods of millions of vulnerable people on the African continent, particularly women and girls. Without sufficient access to resources to recover from COVID, African countries are experiencing a continued socio- economic fallout from COVID-19, resulting in sharp declines in African households’ incomes due to job losses and reduced livelihoods for millions. Declining remittances are also leading to steep increases in poverty and hunger, particularly in low-income developing countries. Currently, an estimated 113 million people in 15 African countries require urgent humanitarian assistance in 2022. Those living in fragile and conflict- affected contexts are at heightened risk, particularly across West, South and East Africa.
The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) report released last week indicate that there are 59.1 million internally displaced people across the world at the end of 2021, 53.2 million IDP’s as a result of conflict and violence, and 5.9 million as a result of disasters. Children constitute 25.2 million of the internally displacement. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for more than 80 per cent of all internal displacements triggered by conflict and violence worldwide in 2021. The regional total was 4.7 million higher than the figure for the previous year, driven mostly by conflict in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burkina Faso, Somalia and the Central African Republic (CAR). Conflict and violence triggered 11.6 million internal displacements in sub-Saharan Africa, the highest figure ever recorded for the region.
All of these issues were pressing before conflict broke out in Ukraine – which is already significantly increasing food prices and disproportionately impacting many countries in Africa. While 63.4% of wheat consumed across the African Continent is imported,
several African countries are almost completely dependent on wheat imported from Russia and Ukraine, including Somalia (100%), Benin (100%), Egypt (82%), Sudan (75%), DRC (69%), Senegal (66%), and Tanzania (64%).
These countries and others that depend on imported wheat will see huge price increases, making food very difficult to access for the world’s poorest, and driving up food insecurity and the risk of famine for these populations. The increased cost and disruption of fertilizer supply will also mean that the current crisis will not only result in short-term food shortages but will have long-term effects on countries ability to grow and harvest crops. The impact of the conflict in Ukraine is also increasing the costs for humanitarian operations – WFP estimates its food procurement costs have increased by 44% since the start of the Ukraine crisis and UNICEF estimates that the cost of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) for the treatment of acute malnutrition will rise by 16% over the next six months.
Unless quick action is taken, decades of development gains will be rolled back and millions of lives will be lost, posing a significant threat to achieving the AU Agenda 2063 and its vision of ‘The Africa we Want’, including the Pan African Vision of “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena.
The impact of these converging catastrophes is disproportionately felt by women and girls – who make up 60 percent of acutely food insecure people globally. Women and girls already eat last and least, so the combined impact of diminishing resources and limited decision-making power, mean this crisis will deepen the systemic inequality that holds women and girls back from realizing their right to good nutrition. When women are not well-nourished, the impacts on both them and their children are devastating, including increased maternal and infant mortality, perpetuating intergenerational cycles of malnutrition that will be felt for generations to come. Food insecurity also puts women and girls at greater risk of gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse, and child marriage – and increases their unpaid care load.