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UN: 155 M Faced Severe Hunger 05/06 07:25

   

   UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- At least 155 million people faced acute hunger in 
2020, including 133,000 who needed urgent food to prevent widespread death from 
starvation -- and the outlook for 2021 is equally grim or worse, a report by 16 
organizations said Wednesday.

   The report, which focuses on 55 countries that account for 97% of 
humanitarian assistance, said the magnitude and severity of food crises last 
year worsened as a result of protracted conflicts, the economic fallout of the 
COVID-19 pandemic, and weather extremes that exacerbated "pre-existing 
fragilities."

   The 155 million people faced "crisis," "emergency" or "catastrophe/famine" 
levels of food needs, an increase of around 20 million people from 2019, it 
said.

   According to the report, two-thirds of the people in those crisis levels 
were in 10 countries -- Congo, Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, northern 
Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Haiti. The 133,000 facing 
starvation, death and destitution were in Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen.

   "The number of people facing acute food insecurity and requiring urgent 
food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance is on the rise," U.N. 
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote in the forward to the 307-page Global 
Report on Food Crises.

   "There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century," he said. 
"We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either."

   Arif Husain, the World Food Program's chief economist, said at a U.N. news 
conference for the release of the fifth annual report that the biggest driver 
of food crises is conflict, which accounted for 99 million people in 23 
countries facing a food crisis last year.

   "Unless we start finding political solutions to conflicts," the number of 
people needing humanitarian assistance will keep increasing, he said.

   According to the report, 40.5 million people in 17 countries faced acute 
food insecurity last year because of "economic shocks" including the fallout 
from the pandemic.

   First and foremost, Husain pointed to declining incomes as a result of the 
255 million jobs lost in the pandemic -- "four times more than the financial 
crisis" in 2008. He also expressed concern that the amount of debt taken on by 
countries large and small to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus "has 
exploded."

   Dominique Burgeon, director of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's 
office in Geneva, said 60% to 80% of the 155 million people facing acute food 
insecurity depend on agriculture, but last year FAO was able to assist only 
about 30%.

   The report presented some other grim statistics from 2020: 75.2 million 
children under 5 years old living in the 55 countries were "stunted" in their 
growth and 15.8 million were "wasted," or underweight for their height.

   In terms of the prevalence of people facing crisis, emergency or famine 
levels of food needs, the report said Central African Republic, South Sudan and 
Syria had more than half their analyzed populations at the crisis level or 
worse, and five countries -- Afghanistan, Haiti, Lesotho, Yemen and Zimbabwe -- 
had between 40% and 45% of their populations at those levels.

   Looking to 2021, the report said, "food crises are becoming increasingly 
protracted and the ability to recover from new adverse events is becoming more 
difficult."

   "Conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and large-scale economic crises are 
expected to extend food-crisis situations in 2021, necessitating continuing 
large-scale humanitarian assistance," it said.

   The report made forecasts based on 40 of the 55 countries, saying those for 
the other 15 countries weren't available.

   It said over 142 million people in those 40 countries are forecast to face 
food crises, emergencies or catastrophes this year. Around 155,000 people are 
likely to face "catastrophe/famine" through mid-2021 --- around 108,000 in 
South Sudan and 47,000 in Yemen, the report said.

   WFP's Husain said, for example, that providing one single meal per day for a 
year for 34 million people would cost about $5 billion, saying that the most 
critical needs are funding and humanitarian access.

   "Without that, we won't be able to save lives," he said.

 
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