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2021: Steadfast Against Hunger

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Annual Regional Overview: Looking back on WFP's response to rising acute food insecurity in countries across the Asia Pacific region

May 2022

Hunger on the Rise

2021 saw the Asia Pacific region end the year with the highest number of people facing acute food insecurity globally.

A spiralling combination of conflict, COVID-19 and climate-related shocks drove unprecedented waves of people into food insecurity in many countries. By year-end, 62.2 million people in the region were estimated to be facing acute food insecurity.

This is three times higher than pre*-*COVID-19 levels. Just as many countries were recovering from the first year of COVID-19, many failed to maintain their progress due to successive shocks. These shocks further exposed structural inequalities - disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable people.

"This year [2021], we saw hunger reaching new peaks. Urgent action is needed to stop today's emergencies from becoming a catastrophe." - WFP Executive Director, David Beasley

This is set to deteriorate even further in 2022, as the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine radiate outwards and trigger a surge in global food and energy prices and constrain supply chains.

Shocks continued to assail the region.

Extreme weather events in the region persisted through 2021, pushing many of the most vulnerable even further into food insecurity. In the Philippines, for example, Typhoon Odette - the deadliest storm in 2021 - impacted over 11 million people. The monsoon season stirred floods across the region, from Bangladesh to Cambodia and Indonesia. Meanwhile, Afghanistan faced its worst drought in decades.

Conflict and political instability drove the bulk of the deterioration.

Two events brought this into sharp focus:

In Afghanistan, the year was defined by raging conflict, the withdrawal of foreign forces, and the ultimate takeover by the Taliban. These compounded the effects of the second drought in three years and a severe economic crisis. By the end of the year, hunger had soared to unprecedented levels, with 23 million people – 55 percent of the population – facing acute food insecurity.

In Myanmar, the military takeover on 1 February was accompanied by significant upheaval across the country, and conflict erupted in places that had not seen violence in generations. The triple impact of political unrest, a brutal third wave of COVID-19 and an economic crisis drove the number of moderately and severely food insecure people to 13.2 million.

Many countries saw their worst waves of COVID-19 yet.

In the Asia Pacific region,[1] the Delta and Omicron variants drove an explosion of new COVID-19 cases, breaching 50 million positive cases by the end of 2021. Government restrictions and lockdowns also persisted throughout the year, further threatening growth and food security.

In Bangladesh, for example, the effects of the pandemic drove the average income of the poor to 23 percent below pre-COVID-19 levels. In the Pacific, strict pandemic-related restrictions were imposed and unemployment reached record levels - as high as 80 percent in sectors such as tourism.

WFP Uniquely Placed to Respond

Yet, even as conflict, COVID-19 and climate-related shocks raged on, WFP remained ready to deliver, building on decades of operational experience, as well as lessons learned from the first year of COVID-19. Time and time again, governments called on WFP to help tackle these challenges, whether it was providing emergency food assistance to new waves of people displaced by conflict, or delivering take-home rations to children affected by school closures.

At the same time, several governments stepped up their food security and nutrition ambitions, with WFP remaining steadfast as their partner of choice. WFP's technical assistance and capacity strengthening spanned across multiple areas - including numerous national nutrition strategies, emergency roadmaps, various digital tools and e-learning modules.

Reaching more people than ever before

In the majority of countries,[2] WFP reached even more people than in the previous year - a sign of the deepening needs across the region.

In Afghanistan and Myanmar, where political instability drove the most pronounced spikes in hunger, WFP undertook unprecedented scale-ups, reaching 15 million and 2.9 million people respectively. In many cases, this involved navigating complex access issues to ensure life-saving assistance could continue unimpeded.

Meanwhile, WFP also mobilized in response to extreme weather events. As two large fires and monsoon flooding struck Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, WFP immediately provided hot meals and fortified biscuits to tens of thousands of people. And when Typhoons Goni and Vamco struck the Philippines in late 2020, WFP continued responding to the aftermath with cash assistance to over 30,000 people in coordination with the Government.

WFP also continued responding to COVID-19, as evidenced when it provided 2.1 million meals for returning migrant labourers at quarantine centers in Lao PDR or delivered the COVID-19 Livelihoods and Economic Recovery Project in Nepal. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, WFP concluded its relief assistance to hundreds of thousands of people affected by recurrent shocks in the country (including locust outbreaks, and the COVID-19 pandemic).

Sustaining children's access to school meals

As COVID-19 forced many school doors shut across the region, WFP's flexibility to shift between alternative modalities again proved vital in keeping children healthy and ready to learn.

In many countries, this meant continuing to deliver take-home rations to children who would otherwise have benefitted from on-site school feeding; WFP delivered take-home rations to 30,000 families in Cambodia, 44,000 families in Tajikistan, and 170,000 children in Nepal. WFP also supported the Government of Sri Lanka to provide take-home rations to nearly 40,000 children. At the same time, WFP deepened its evidence base by conducting research designed to understand just how alternative modalities like these take-home rations can reduce food insecurity for children.

WFP also increased government ownership of these programmes, with long-term sustainability in mind. In Lao PDR, WFP handed over programmes in 915 schools to the Government, while in Cambodia, the Government committed to taking over 85 additional schools. WFP also strengthened the capacity of governments to run these programmes - such as rolling out a menu planner (PLUS), for Bhutan's national school nutrition programme, or developing online e-learning materials for children in Indonesia to continue receiving nutrition education amid school closures.

Reinforcing capacities to face the shocks of the future

When the humanitarian situation escalated in Afghanistan, WFP's preparedness mechanisms in neighbouring countries immediately kicked into gear. This involved procuring tens of thousands of metric tonnes of food from Tajikistan and Pakistan, prepositioning food for the potential refugee influx at border points, and transporting thousands of humanitarian workers to and from the country.

As the Asia Pacific region is the most vulnerable to climate-related shocks, WFP also continued reinforcing emergency preparedness. For example, WFP built safe evacuation centres in Cambodia in high flood-risk locations, and provided training on emergency information management and telecommunications to government offices across the Pacific Islands.

Across the region, WFP also implemented resilience interventions, placing the power of preparedness and disaster risk reduction into the hands of communities. These resilience interventions not only help to meet immediate food needs when shocks arise, but simultaneously create opportunities for livelihoods, income sources, and productive assets that can last long after the shocks have subsided.

Bolder, more ambitious government approaches to zero hunger

As a number of governments adopt increasingly bold food security and nutrition goals, WFP is stepping up its capacity strengthening efforts to help them achieve these goals.

A key focus of this country capacity strengthening in 2021 was around nutrition**.** WFP provided policy-level support in developing national action plans and strategies around nutrition in Bhutan, Cambodia, and the Philippines. WFP also provided technical assistance in social behaviour change and communication in this area, developing digital nutrition education packages in Indonesia and logos to raise awareness around fortified foods in Laos.

Meanwhile, WFP supported many governments in their emergency preparedness goals - such as support in revising or finalizing various national plans and roadmaps in Bhutan and Sri Lanka. In Pakistan, WFP even supported in deploying an e-school safety learning module to promote basic emergency preparedness and response concepts for schoolchildren and teachers.

Breaking New Ground

As the food security and nutrition needs of the region continue to shift, WFP works tirelessly to keep the most vulnerable from being left behind. Much of this work is bolstered by innovative practices across the region. From digital innovations for enhanced registration in social safety nets, to new forms of government partnerships, WFP has proven, again, to be a driving force for change in the region.

Here are just a few examples:

Generating Evidence

Finally, WFP continued to thrive in its role as a knowledge producer in the region - placing evidence into the hands of policy and decision-makers with its characteristic speed and expertise. One year on from the outset of COVID-19, WFP's hybrid approach to evidence generation also continued bearing fruit, combining its mobile vulnerability, analysis and mapping (mVAM) expertise with on-site monitoring to maximize reach and accuracy. Finally, WFP continued to thrive in its role as a knowledge producer and advisor in the region - placing evidence into the hands of policy and decision-makers with its characteristic speed and expertise. One year on from the onset of COVID-19, WFP's hybrid approach to evidence generation continues to bear fruit, combining its mobile vulnerability, analysis and mapping (mVAM) expertise with on-site assessments and monitoring to maximize reach and accuracy.

As major crises struck several countries, WFP provided vital food security and nutrition assessments. WFP’s assessment of the dire food security situation in Myanmar and Afghanistan following political upheaval played vital roles in targeting and advocacy. Meanwhile, WFP further unpacked the impacts of COVID-19 and climate, for example, through a technical paper on minimum expenditure baskets in Cambodia and a study on climate change and food security in the Philippines. WFP's evidence even captured market volatility through another unpredictable year. In Bangladesh, WFP and FAO jointly conducted joint market monitoring to assess the market situation following a strict lockdown, while in the Kyrgyz Republic, WFP's price monitoring assessed global situational impacts on consumer price growth.

In total, WFP developed some 500 external products across the region in 2021.

Annual Country Reports

WFP produces Annual Country Reports in each of its country offices as part of its commitment to describing its performance in an accurate, transparent and evidence-based manner.

View the 2021 Annual Country Reports to learn more about each country office's performance through the year.