Six-fold increase in people suffering famine-like conditions since pandemic began

Africa, Campaigns and Advocacy, East Africa, Emergencies, Foreign aid, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 09 Jul 2021

A new Oxfam report reveals that as many as 11 people are likely dying of hunger and malnutrition each minute. This is more than the current global death rate of COVID-19, which is around seven people per minute.

Overall, 155 million people around the world are now living in crisis levels of food insecurity or worse – 20 million more than last year.

The report, ‘The Hunger Virus Multiplies’, highlights that of those 155 million people, over half a million have been pushed to the brink of starvation – a six-fold increase since 2020 – with conflict the primary cause.

The report also describes the massive impact that economic shocks, particularly worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, along with the worsening climate crisis, have had in pushing tens of millions more people into hunger. Mass unemployment and severely disrupted food production have led to a 40% surge in global food prices – the highest rise in over a decade.

Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said:

“Today, unrelenting conflict on top of the COVID-19 economic fallout, and a worsening climate crisis, has pushed more than 520,000 people to the brink of starvation. Instead of battling the pandemic, warring parties fought each other, too often landing the last blow to millions of people already battered by weather disasters and economic shocks.

“We are calling on the Australian Government to urgently provide additional funds to save lives in these hunger hotspots. This should include at least $10 million and $25 million for South Sudan and Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis respectively, in line with previous humanitarian contributions to these countries.”

Despite the pandemic, global military spending rose by USD$51 billion – with just that increase enough to cover six and a half times what the UN says it needs to stop people going hungry. Australia’s defence budget rose by 4.1% this year to $44.6 billion. Meanwhile, conflict and violence have led to the highest ever rate of internal displacement, forcing 48 million people to flee their homes at the end of 2020.

“Starvation continues to be used as a weapon of war, depriving civilians of food and water and impeding humanitarian relief. People can’t live safely, or find food, when their markets are being bombed and crops and livestock destroyed.”

Some of the world’s worst hunger hotspots, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen continue to be battered by conflict, and have witnessed a surge in extreme levels of hunger since last year. 

More than 350,000 people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are experiencing catastrophic levels of hunger according to recent IPC analysis – the largest number recorded since Somalia in 2011, when a quarter million Somalis died. More than half the population of Yemen are expected to face crisis levels of food insecurity or worse this year.

Hunger has also intensified in emerging epicentres of hunger ―middle income countries such as India, South Africa, and Brazil― which also saw some of the sharpest rises in COVID-19 infections.

Some examples of the hunger hotspots highlighted in the report include:

  • South Sudan: In South Sudan, which is today celebrating 10 years of independence, over 100,000 people are now facing famine-like conditions. Continued violence and flooding disrupted agriculture in the past year and forced 4.2 million people to flee their homes.
  • Yemen: Blockades, conflict and a fuel crisis have caused staple food prices to more than double since 2016. Humanitarian aid was slashed by half, curtailing humanitarian agencies’ response and cutting food assistance for 5 million people. The number of people experiencing famine-like conditions are expected to almost triple to 47,000 by July 2021.
  • India: Spiralling COVID-19 infections devastated public health as well as income, particularly for migrant workers and farmers, who were forced to leave their crops in the field to rot. Over 70% of people surveyed in 12 states have downgraded their diet because they could not afford to pay for food. School closures have also deprived 120 million children of their main meal.

Ms Morgain added: “Informal workers, women, displaced people and other marginalised groups are hit hardest by conflict and hunger. Women and girls often eat last and eat least. They face impossible choices, like having to choose between traveling to the market and risking getting physically or sexually assaulted, or watching their families go hungry.

“Governments must stop conflict from continuing to fuel catastrophic hunger and instead ensure aid agencies can reach those in need. Donor governments must immediately and fully fund the UN’s humanitarian appeal to help save lives now.” 

For interviews, contact Lily Partland on 0418 118 687 /