Current projections estimate that nearly 8 per cent of the world’s population will still be facing hunger in 2030 – the same as in 2015 when UN leaders originally pledged their commitment. That would mean virtually no progress, despite fifteen years of concerted political and financial efforts to attain the goal.
The 2022 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) Report, which was released on 6 July, serves as a progress report on the UN’s ambitious goal to end world hunger by 2030. The report found that up to 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021, a trend that has been sharply rising in recent years. Maximo Terrero, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s chief economist, was clearly shaken as he delivered his final remarks at the launch of the report.
“This is the third year I’ve personally come to report at this session, and it’s the third year that we come with bad news,” he said, “It’s very important that next year we can come with good news.”
This sense of desperation is shared by many working in the humanitarian sector. The combined threats of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, climate-change related extreme weather, and ongoing conflicts have severely limited people’s access to food. As prices rise around the world and make it more difficult to purchase food even in wealthy countries, the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people are suffering disproportionately. In addition to the millions of people experiencing hunger, an unprecedented 49 million people in 46 countries could now be at risk of famine – hunger to the point of starvation – unless they receive immediate humanitarian assistance. The threat of famine is particularly urgent in the drought- and conflict-stricken Horn of Africa region, which includes Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and South Sudan.
I recently returned from South Sudan, where 7.7 million people – a population nearly the size of New York City – are experiencing crisis levels of hunger. While I was there, I heard harrowing reports of women living in displacement camps fainting from undernourishment and lack of food, farmers being driven off their land due to conflict, and floods wiping out crops just as they were to be harvested. Hundreds of humanitarian organisations are working in South Sudan to address hunger and other needs, but their ability to operate has become increasingly constrained by rising prices and the lack of funding wealthy donor countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom are willing to provide for the response. The UN World Food Programme, which provides most of the food relief in South Sudan, has had to drastically reduce its aid in recent years. This year, it estimates that it will only be able to reach two-thirds of those in need, leaving huge numbers of vulnerable people unable to meet their basic food needs. Many will be forced to revert to survival strategies such as skipping or reducing meals, selling valuable assets, or even child marriage and child labour. It does not have to be this way.
The decision to avert famine and fight world hunger is a choice to be made by the world leaders. Funding for urgent, large-scale humanitarian aid is needed to address the serious needs we are seeing around the world. But in addition to that, we will also need a change in approach. As evidenced by the likely failure to attain the goal of zero hunger by 2030, our current approaches to this issue are not working. Tackling world hunger will require political will and funding that addresses broken systems and the drivers that create hunger in the first place. This would include measures such as strengthening food systems and supply chain resilience, as well as investing in social safety nets. More must also be done to improve mechanisms that allow us to act quickly to prevent famine before it happens and keep hunger from spiraling out of control.
While the UN may not be able to deliver on its goal to end world hunger by 2030, the fact that it committed to such an ambitious goal in the first place signals the importance of addressing hunger and starvation. With 8 years left to reach the goal, it is still possible to reverse the current negative trend and work toward progress. The potential pathways for reducing and ending hunger are clear, but it will take the willingness of world leaders to pursue them.