In one year, the number of people suffering from “severe food insecurity and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance” increased by 20 million. It is the largest increase ever recorded, as reported in the new report from the Global Network Against Food Crises

by Stefano Bocconetti



It is like if a very large nation, for example Russia, ran the risk of no longer having to eat or drink. It is a strong image, obtained from the latest, dramatic report by the Global Network Against Food Crises. Moreover, it is an image that does not perfectly fit: because the Russia’s population is 146 million people, the “army” of those suffering from “severe food insecurity and in need of urgent humanitarian assistance” is even more numerous: it reaches 155 million. With a growth of twenty million people in one year.

These figures can be explained by the tragedy of the pandemic, but not only. Because COVID-19 and the measures that governments have been forced to take almost everywhere in the world to limit its spread, have had the effect of an “overload” in an already desperate situation. The complaint is not new but this time it comes from one of the most authoritative organisations in the fight against hunger: the pandemic and the consequent economic difficulties have “aggravated pre-existing fragilities”, those caused by armed conflicts and climate change. The result? An exponential growth in inequalities and the figure of 155 million people at food risk. This is the highest increase since the GNAFC report, produced every year by the WFP (World Food Programme) and the FAO, was first published.

Countries with the highest rate of food insecurity


And within these crises, there are even worse crises. The 66 percent of that “army” – we are talking about 103 million people – lives in ten countries, with the highest level of acute “food insecurity”: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Northern Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Zimbabwe. We use the term “people” but if we dig into more detail we find out that the most exposed are the weakest, those without any defense: in the ten countries listed above, more than 7 million children live in a “stressed” food situation, 32 million are at risk of rickets.

A picture that is the result of pre-existing conditions, that the pandemic has obviously aggravated: because in all the countries of the world examined, 40 million people have seen their food condition worsen from 2019 to 2020. In short, they are forced to eat less. Yet, despite this, the virus does not hold the “record”, this sad record: it is still wars and armed conflicts that determine the first reason for the crises. Last year 99 million people in 23 countries were forced to reduce their consumption due to wars.


Humanitarian assistance is urgent


All these data tell of a sick world, a world that has reached very high levels of food insecurity. A world – it is important to emphasise, as the report does – that needs “life-saving humanitarian assistance”. It needs it now, immediately, to prevent those numbers from becoming a tragic death toll.

Humanitarian assistance alone is not enough. And it could not be enough: “A system has broken – we read in the report – We must therefore take advantage of this moment to transform food systems, reduce the number of people in need of assistance and contribute significantly to sustainable development and to build peaceful societies” . How? By transforming agri-food systems, rethinking local systems, intervening immediately in the event of emergencies (the positive example is the one of the locusts in the Horn of Africa), preventing the spread of conflicts with “politics”, strengthening the instruments of social protection, increase diplomatic pressure, increase funds for the support and development of fragile countries. In short, those data impose something on everyone. Just as INTERSOS recently requested, together with over 200 world organisations, in an open letter to governments promoted by ICVA (International Council of Voluntary Agencies).