Global Food Crisis

We are in the midst of a devastating global food crisis. Conflict, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring food prices have led to a steep rise in hunger in countries across the world. 

Today, millions of children are facing the worst hunger crisis that the world has seen in decades.

Forty-five million people are close to starvation right now – facing famine or famine-like conditions – with children and women hit the hardest. Twenty-six million children under 5 are suffering from wasting, which is the most visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition.   
 
Unless action is taken now, more lives will be lost and the devastating effects on the lives of children, especially girls, today will be felt for decades to come.

What causes food insecurity?

The reasons for hunger and food insecurity are many and vary from country to country, but generally, it is a result of conflict, poverty, economic shocks such as hyperinflation and rising commodity prices and environmental shocks such as flooding or drought.

The conflict in Ukraine has sent global food prices skyrocketing. A third of the world’s wheat supplies come from Ukraine or Russia. Ukraine also supplies the world with sunflower oil, barley, maize, and fertilisers. But ongoing conflict means that fields won’t be prepared, crops won’t be planted and fertilisers won’t be available.

COVID-19 also caused a sharp rise in poverty and inequality globally, as lockdowns devastated family livelihoods. In many countries, pandemic restrictions also meant disruption to food supplies, slowing remittances from family overseas and the halting of school meal programmes. Steep rises in food prices are also creating immense strain on household budgets, with the poorest families hardest hit. 

According to the UN, 928 million people were severely food insecure already in 2020 – an increase of 148 million on the previous year.

  • CONFLICT 

Conflict is the biggest cause of hunger globally, and is responsible for 65% of the people facing acute food insecurity. From Mali to Syria to Mozambique, protracted fighting destroys livelihoods and forces families to flee their homes, leaving countless children, including girls, facing hunger. It also makes it extremely difficult and dangerous for humanitarian organisations to reach communities in need. 

It is estimated that over 14 million people in the Central Sahel countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

  • CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate change has contributed to food insecurity by changing weather patterns such as rainfall, increased climatic shocks such as hurricanes, cyclones, floods and droughts which all have an impact on harvests. Climate change has also increased the prevalence of crop pests such as locusts, which damage and destroy harvests. 

  • ECONOMIC INSTABILITY

Inflation and economic shocks has impacted the access to food for many people. Even if food is available, for many people it is too expensive to buy reducing people’s access to food. Linked to the Pandemic, many people have lost their livelihoods and income, again reducing families’ ability to purchase food. 

HOW WILL THE hunger CRISIS AFFECT WOMEN AND GIRLS?

How the global food crisis affects women and girls.

Hunger affects girls, boys, women and men differently. When food is scarce, girls often eat less and eat last. Women and girls account for 70% of the world’s hungry. And as families and communities come under strain, girls are more likely than boys to be taken out of school, and will be at risk of child, early and forced marriage, gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and unwanted pregnancy.

Adolescent girls in Burkina Faso, Mali and South Sudan have told us that they are more likely to be married at a young age if their families are struggling financially.
 
Adolescents and children under the age of 5 are particularly vulnerable if they are malnourished, because of the increased rate at which they are growing and their bodies are changing. Being hungry during these critical years can stunt growth and have a significant impact on brain development, with profound consequences for a child’s educational attainment, health and future earning potential.

Hunger is also particularly dangerous for adolescent girls and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, increasing their risk of miscarriage or dying in childbirth. For their children, it can increase the risk of stillbirth or newborn death, low birth weight and stunting, leading to an intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.

HOW WILL GIRLS’ EDUCATION BE AFFECTED BY FOOD CRISIS?

Food crises can have devastating consequences for girls’ education. Already less likely to attend school than boys, when families are hungry, girls are increasingly called upon to care for younger siblings so parents can work or seek food. All too often, they are forced to miss or drop out of school, damaging their future prospects and placing them at greater risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices such as early marriage or female genital mutilation/cutting.

As a result of school closures alone, 239 million children globally are currently missing out on meals.

What is Plan International doing to respond to the food crisis

Plan International is working in many of the countries facing hunger, and we are urgently scaling up programmes to respond to the escalating needs. 

For example in South Sudan we are scaling up our food distributions in partnership with the World Food Programme, providing lifesaving supplementary feeding to pregnant and lactating mothers and children under five. 

Where possible across our food response programmes we are providing cash or vouchers so families are able to buy food themselves so girls do not drop out of school to support families either by working or by looking after siblings. Where schools have closed, we are adapting and increasing school feeding programmes so children are still able to eat when at home, allowing them more time to continue studying remotely where possible. 

We are scaling up protection mechanisms at the community level to respond to the increase in protection and child protection concerns and where we are distributing food directly, we are ensuring a protective environment for women and girls. 

HOW can the food crisis be tackled?

We can’t afford to wait until more countries reach emergency levels of food insecurity. Children are already dying from hunger. The time to act is now – there shouldn’t be any further delay. 
 
Governments, donors and humanitarian actors must urgently contribute towards the USD $21.5 billion needed to support almost 49 million people on the brink of famine and promote the resilience of 137 million people. Failure to do so will likely result in widespread starvation as well as a complete collapse of agricultural livelihood strategies and assets. 

Governments and donors must supply funding for food, nutrition, protection, education and livelihood support. This includes school feeding programmes, which should be adapted to carry on while schools are closed to reach the most vulnerable children and girls. 

Food distributions and cash transfers must be scaled up to reach those in dire need. Protection mechanisms must be put in place to prevent and respond to surging protection issues, and communities must be supported to grow nutritious foods in order to prevent dietary nutrition deficits that impact children under 5 and adolescent girls the most.

What is the situation in countries most affected by hunger?

We are very concerned about the rapidly deteriorating situation in South Sudan, where at least 7.2 million people – approximately 60% of the population – are in food crisis. Over 2 million people are at risk of famine if they do not receive immediate assistance and 1.4 million children are already suffering from acute malnutrition. 

1.4 million children in South Sudan are already suffering from acute malnutrition

South Sudan is facing multiple humanitarian crises, with the country affected by years of tribal conflict and a vicious cycle of drought and flooding. The worsening situation has been compounded by recent funding cuts which have meant that essential food support programmes have been scaled back.  

Plan International has a long-term presence in communities facing urgent needs. We are supporting food distribution, school meals programmes, as well as a cash transfer programme.

In the Horn of Africa, 4 consecutive rainy seasons have now failed, which means the region is facing its worst drought in 40 years. 

In Ethiopia‘s Somali, Oromia and SNNP regions alone, at least 4.4 million people are in need of clean water. At least 2.1 million livestock, whose milk is the main source of nutrition for children, have died. 

Plan International Ethiopia is responding to the crisis with support including health education, psychosocial support, cash transfers and mobile health and nutrition support. 

It’s feared that by the end of this year in Somalia, 1.5 million children under 5 will be acutely malnourished. Pockets of the country are already at risk of famine.

Plan International Somalia is providing emergency water trucking and cash transfers, targeting areas facing emergency or catastrophic levels of food insecurity.

In Kenya, 4.1 million people face crisis levels of food insecurity and are in need of urgent assistance.  The majority of households have depleted their food stocks and face rapidly rising food prices.   

We are responding by providing food assistance, school meals and dignity kits, emergency water, nutrition and child protection. 

More than 1.9 million people in Burkina Faso, including more than one million children, have left their homes to seek safety from armed conflict across the country. Families’ livelihoods are being destroyed. Over 4,200 schools are closed due to fighting or the threat of violence.  

Plan International provides child protection, education, hygiene kits and financial support for families displaced by conflict.

Mali is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in over a decade with over a third of the population, or 7.5 million people, in a situation of extreme vulnerability.  Acute malnutrition has already reached emergency levels in some areas.

We are providing life-saving assistance to those with the most urgent needs. Our focus is on child protection and education, as well as food security through provision of cash transfers.  

In Niger, 1.6 million children under the age of five are suffering from wasting, the most visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition. A growing number of people face high levels of food insecurity as a result of internal displacement, conflict, increases in food prices and erratic weather.

Plan International’s response prioritises food assistance – cash and in-kind – school feeding programmes, as well as livestock and farming assistance to those most in need. 

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