Blog Post

Mutually reinforcing factors led to soaring food insecurity in 2020: 2021 Global Report on Food Crises Released

The number of people around the world facing severe food insecurity skyrocketed by 20 million in 2020, according to the 2021 Global Report on Food Crises, released today. Acute food insecurity now affects at least 155 million people across 55 countries/territories, with some regions facing famine-level hunger. In light of these soaring numbers, the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of zero hunger by 2030 seems to have gotten further from reach.

The Global Report on Food Crises is prepared by 16 leading global and regional organizations belonging to the Global Network Against Food Crises, and released annually by the Food Security Information Network (FSIN), led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and IFPRI. The report provides the latest estimates of severe hunger worldwide and at the country level, as well as analysis of the key drivers behind current hunger trends, to help humanitarian aid organizations and development organizations better coordinate to address the root causes of food crises. The data come mainly from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) and the Cadre Harmonisé (CH). The 2021 report monitors food insecurity in 55 countries/territories vulnerable to food crises and provides in-depth analysis of causes of severe food insecurity for 34 countries.

Global food insecurity has been on the rise annually since the GRFC’s inception in 2017. In the 39 countries covered by the report since that year, the number of people in IPC/CH Phase 3 (Crisis) level hunger or above grew from 94 million to 147 million. In 2020, 28 million people across 38 countries faced IPC /CH Phase 4 (Emergency) level food insecurity, requiring urgent humanitarian aid.

As in previous years, conflict and extreme weather events formed the major drivers of hunger worldwide. Conflict was behind food crises in 23 of the covered countries, driving almost 100 million people into IPC/CH Phase 3 or above food insecurity. Severe or abnormal weather events – heavy rains, flooding, and tropical storms – accounted for 16 million people in Phase 3 food insecurity across 15 countries.

In 2020, however, these pre-existing factors were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic shocks caused by the pandemic and associated policy measures (lockdowns, restrictions of movement, closure of street markets, etc.) led to loss of employment and incomes. These impacts have been worst in poor countries and in countries already facing conflict or instability. Economic shocks, including those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, drove over 40 million people across 17 countries into Phase 3 food insecurity – up from 24 million people in eight countries in 2019.

Six of the ten countries experiencing the worst food crises were in Africa: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sudan, northern Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe. The Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen, Haiti, and Afghanistan also faced the most severe food crises in 2020. These crises are also forecast to continue through 2021. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and northern Nigeria are each expected to see at least 12 million people suffering from Phase 3 food insecurity. In addition, an estimated 155,000 people in South Sudan and Yemen are expected to face IPC Phase 5 (Catastrophe) level food insecurity through mid-2021.

Between 2019 and 2020, twelve countries saw the largest increases in Phase 3 or above food insecurity: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Nigeria, the Sudan and the Syrian Arab Republic. Other countries that saw a major increase were Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Honduras, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.

According to the GRFC, the world will continue to face new and continuing food crises. The drivers of these crises – conflict, extreme weather, and economic shocks – are often mutually reinforcing, creating a cycle of instability and worsening hunger and economic outcomes. As with the outcomes seen in 2020, the impacts are expected to be worst in already poor or unstable countries. The report forecasts Southern and Western Africa will continue to be negatively affected by economic shocks, particularly those related to COVID-19. The Horn of Africa will continue to face weather-related crises, including forecast drier-than-average conditions and the threat of pests like the 2020 desert locust infestation, which will crop and livestock production, incomes, and consumption. In multiple regions, including Central America, Syria, and Bangladesh, ongoing conflict will drive increased population displacement and migration.

The stark findings in the 2021 GRFC highlight the need for urgent, coordinated efforts to address all of the drivers of food insecurity. This includes strengthening and transforming global, regional, and local food systems to be more inclusive and sustainable, and enhancing populations’ resilience to future shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic. Only by recognizing how conflict, extreme weather, and economic shocks reinforce one another and tackling these factors in tandem can we get back on track to achieving the SDG goal of zero hunger.