International food insecurity rose from 2015 to 2016, according to the Food Security Information Network’s (FSIN) Global Report on Food Crises 2017 released in March. One hundred and eight million people worldwide faced food insecurity at crisis level or worse in 2016, compared with eighty million in 2015. The first annual report highlights the food security situation in 65 countries and aims to enable “better-informed planning decisions to respond to food crises in a more timely, global and coordinated way.”
According to the report, the major factors for food insecurity in 2016 were armed conflict, a driver in nine of the ten most severe humanitarian crises, natural disasters—like drought due to El Niño weather patterns and severe weather events—and record food prices in some vulnerable regions.
Ertharin Cousin, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, urged readers to take note of worsening food insecurity and its effect on overall stability. “Hunger exacerbates crisis, creating ever greater instability and insecurity,” says Cousin. She warned, “what is a food security challenge today becomes tomorrow’s security challenge.”
Ongoing conflicts affecting millions in regions of Asia and Africa are increasing rates of global food insecurity. “The negative impact of conflict on food security, nutrition and agriculture is an uncontested and globally recognized phenomenon,” according to the report. Conflict interrupts production of food, destroys food and agriculture assets, and can slow economic activity, the report explains. Conflict also makes it more difficult for humanitarian organizations and governments to deliver food assistance.
Additionally, conflict that displaces large populations can stress neighbor countries or host communities, whose food systems can be insufficient to support significant influxes of people. This is the case in Syria, where a reported 7 million people need urgent food assistance, and 6.3 million people are internally displaced. Another 4.8 million have fled Syria, contributing to strain on food systems in Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
In countries where populations and systems have low capacity for responding to shocks, the report says natural disasters took a significant toll on food security in 2016. El Niño weather patterns, which brought the second year of drought conditions to several eastern and southern African countries, negatively affected agricultural production, livestock production, and livelihoods.
The report predicts climate-related reprieve in some areas in 2017. While smaller harvests for 2016 in southern Africa could result in a more difficult lean season, for example, main harvest food production beginning in April 2017 is expected to recover to normal levels.
But such reprieve will not be the norm, according to the report. The authors expect droughts and conflicts to continue negatively affecting food security in some areas. In East Africa (including in Kenya, where the drought is considered a national disaster), food insecurity continues to rise as of February.
The report integrates many data sources, relying heavily on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) system to classify populations into five phases of food insecurity: minimal, stressed, crisis, emergency, and famine. Food insecure populations are those given the crisis, emergency, or famine designations. These populations may be experiencing gaps in food consumption while receiving humanitarian assistance or may be depleting assets, like food stocks, livestock, or seed stores, at an increased rate to provide food for consumption.
This collaborative effort hopes “to provide a clear picture of acute food insecurity situation,” according to WFP, and to enable more coordinated and targeted response. This response, according to U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva, should including increasing “efforts to save, protect and invest in rural livelihoods” to build longer-term stability for tens of millions worldwide.