The threat of “Covid famines” and widespread extreme hunger is setting off every alarm bell within the international community, but so far sluggish funding is hampering humanitarian agencies’ efforts to deliver urgent assistance to people in need.
A new Oxfam analysis says that the international community’s response to global food insecurity has been dangerously inadequate. The report, “Later Will Be Too Late”, is aimed at the Committee for World Food Security’s (CFS) high-level event today which is hoped to “keep food security and nutrition front-and-center of the global sustainable development agenda”.
In Yemen, DRC, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Somalia – that is, five of the seven countries where severe hunger continues to increase – donors have so far given no money at all for the “Covid-related nutrition assistance” part of the UN’s $10.34b humanitarian appeal.
This is despite more than 55m people in those seven worst-affected countries, including Afghanistan and South Sudan, facing severe-to-extreme levels of food insecurity. There are now famine-like conditions in some parts of South Sudan and Burkina Faso.
Hunger levels in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo are worse now than in 2017 when the threat of four famines was looming and only averted by a last-minute declaration by the UN that pushed donors into giving massive support.
As of today, donors have pledged just 28% of the UN Covid appeal that was launched back in March this year. Every sector including gender-based violence (58%), protection (27%), health (26.6 %) and water, sanitation and hygiene (17.2%) are chronically under-funded.
But some of the worst funded sectors are food security (10.6%) and nutrition (3.2%).
The UN has divided its humanitarian appeal into “Covid” and “non-Covid”-related needs. In six of the seven countries where severe hunger is rising, donors have provided less than 40% of the funding they need for Covid-related food security.
“Even one of the first hunger ‘hot-spots’ in Africa – Burkina Faso – has only been able to secure less than half the humanitarian assistance it needs,” said Oxfam International interim Executive Director, Chema Vera.
“Three years ago, following an extraordinary food crisis, the international community rallied in the promise we would never see these levels of hunger again. And yet here we are again, with relative indifference. Millions of people simply cannot afford delay,” he said.
The economic fall-out of the coronavirus pandemic is both ripping away people’s resources to feed their families and those available to the international community amid all the competing priorities. “2020 is a perfect storm – we know that – but our primary aim must surely be to help keep people alive,” Vera said.
“The CFS must raise the alarm at the UN that famine is imminent on its watch and not enough is yet being done to stop it. We need a fairer and more sustainable food system that supports small scale producers. Years of neglect mean that million upon millions of people remain unnecessarily vulnerable to shocks like Covid, climate change and conflict.”
“In July we warned that by the end of this year more people could be dying from Covid-related hunger than from the disease itself. There is overwhelming evidence that money spent on preparedness and prevention not only saves lives today but can break the costly cycle of poverty and hunger and give people hope for tomorrow”.
“The international community should fully-fund the UN appeal now and accompany this by the strongest political action to support the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. We must break this horrific, never-ending bond between conflict and hunger