41 million people now at imminent risk of famine: WFP

Children begging in the desert./Getty Images

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) on Tuesday warned that famine could become a reality for millions of people around the world, without urgent funding to stave off a catastrophe, and without access to families cut-off by conflict.

“I am heartbroken at what we’re facing in 2021. We now have four countries where famine-like conditions are present,” said WFP’s Executive Director David Beasley addressing WFP’s Executive Board.

“Meanwhile 41 million people are literally knocking on famine’s door. If you look at the numbers, it’s just tragic – these are real people with real names. I am extremely concerned,” he warned.

Recent assessments show that tragically, 584,000 are already experiencing famine-like conditions in Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen. Nigeria and Burkina Faso are also of particular concern because they have in recent months had pockets of people in IPC phase 5.

“In Somalia in 2011, 260,000 people died of hunger – and by the time the famine was actually declared – half of that number had already died. We can’t debate the numbers to death when people need our help now,” Beasley warned.

Recent WFP analyses show that 41 million people are teetering on the very edge of famine in 43 countries, and the slightest shock will push them over the precipice. This number has risen from 27 million in 2019.

Conflict, climate change and economic shocks have been driving the rises in hunger, but pressures on food security are being compounded by soaring prices for basic foods this year. Global maize prices have soared almost 90% year-on-year, while wheat prices are up almost 30% over the same period.