World Facing Unprecedented Hunger Crisis, Deputy Secretary-General Warns Economic and Social Council, Urging Governments to Support Resilience at Scale

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Economic and Social Council meeting on the transition from relief to development, held under the theme “Recurrent crises and sustainable solutions:  building resilience and addressing rising food insecurity and displacement”, in New York today:

It is a pleasure to address the opening of the 2022 Economic and Social Council meeting on the transition from relief to development.  Your themes of recurrent crises and sustainable solutions, and building resilience and addressing rising food insecurity and displacement could not be more timely.

There is no doubt that much of the developing world, supported by the United Nations system, bilateral and other partners, made significant progress in enhancing food supplies and reducing hunger over the past 25 years.  But, more recently, we have seen global hunger on the rise, reversing decades of progress.  Climate change, extreme weather events, conflicts and economic downturns are some of the factors driving growing food insecurity.

Some 193 million people experienced food insecurity across 53 countries or territories in 2021.  Acute food insecurity is at a record high.  The ripple effects of the conflict in Ukraine are extending human suffering far beyond its borders, threatening global hunger on an unprecedented scale.

Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen are “hunger hotspots” facing catastrophic conditions, according to the latest report by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  Afghanistan and Somalia are new entries to this worrisome list.  A total of 750,000 people are already facing starvation and death in Ethiopia, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, the Sahel region, Sudan and Syria remain “countries of very high concern” where conditions are critical, and deteriorating.

Violence and conflict remain the primary drivers for acute hunger, and conflict levels and violence against civilians have increased in 2022.  In particular, conflict has led to new waves of displacement, forcing people to abandon their homes, land and livelihoods, reducing the amount of food locally available in their communities.  In the Sahel alone, close to 2.8 million people have been internally displaced.

Some 13.6 million children globally under the age of five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  In young children, this is a medical emergency that carries an 11‑fold increased risk of dying, compared to healthy children.  Even if these children survive, they may suffer from stunting, which has life-long consequences.  Only 1 in 3 of those children has access to treatment.

We can change that, with just $300 million — just 0.1 per cent of the overseas development aid spent in a year.  To put that figure into perspective, 62 new food billionaires have been created in the past two years.  And billionaires in the food and energy sectors have seen their fortunes increase by some $382 billion over the past two years.

We cannot continue with business as usual.  Investing in development is the key to addressing root causes.  This must be done with a sense of urgency and scale to get ahead of the crises.

The war in Ukraine has combined with the climate crisis, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unequal recovery to create a perfect storm of needs in developing countries.  We need new approaches and policies, commensurate with the challenges we face.

The Secretary-General’s initiative to address the multiple waves of crises, the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance, convenes United Nations agencies, international financial institutions and partners around this triple crisis.  The group in its first brief revealed that 1.2 billion people live in countries that are severely vulnerable to all three dimensions of the crisis; 1.6 billion are exposed to at least one dimension.

The Response Group’s second brief sets out how rising inequality and economic instability could lead to social and political unrest in some of the worst‑affected countries in the coming months.  I would like to focus on the actions needed to prevent this perfect storm, on three key fronts:

First, time is short to prevent a food crisis of global proportions next year.  We must stabilize global markets, reduce volatility and tackle the uncertainty of commodity prices.  There can be no effective solution to the global food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by the Russian Federation into world markets — despite the war.  To avert a food availability crisis in 2023, we must restore fertilizer availability, especially for smallholder farmers now.

Second, food is a fundamental human right.  We must alleviate immediate suffering through humanitarian assistance and by investing in social protection systems.  But, we must also realize our long-term vision of a food systems transformation, to which we all committed last year at the United Nations Food Systems Summit.

Third, we need country-specific responses, and our revitalized United Nations country teams, guided by the quadrennial comprehensive policy review, under the leadership of the resident coordinators, have a central role to play.

Countries across the world have already benefitted from the convening roles of resident coordinators in the formulation of national pathways for sustainable food systems, which will guide the development of policies and legislation.  Now, United Nations country teams must support Governments to translate these national pathways into concrete actions and policy interventions, even as they target short-term needs.

I am pleased to say that United Nations country teams are doing just that.  United Nations country teams are using the Development Emergency Modality of the Joint Sustainable Development Goal Fund to help Governments devise strategic interventions to cope with the multidimensional crisis in food, energy and finance, and accelerate the transformation of food systems.

In Yemen, for example, the focus is on identifying key inefficiencies in the political economy of the food system and the gatekeepers responsible for them, to inform the design of future policies.  In Haiti, the emphasis is on diversification of the economy, improved livelihoods for women and youth, and strategic partnerships for agriculture and fisheries.  In Niger, our efforts prioritize data gathering and strategic forecasting, to better understand and respond to the triple crisis.

The world is facing a global hunger crisis of unprecedented proportions, and we are at a critical crossroads.  Either we rise to the challenge of meeting immediate needs while supporting programmes that build long-term resilience at scale, or we will face even greater humanitarian crises down the line.  It will take everyone’s efforts to fix a crisis that involves everyone.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.