Aid agencies call for urgent action to curb famine in hunger hotspots
People lining up to receive relief food amid COVID-19 in Burkina Faso. /AFP

People lining up to receive relief food amid COVID-19 in Burkina Faso. /AFP

People in four food insecurity "hotspots" inside Burkina Faso, north-eastern Nigeria, South Sudan, and Yemen, need help urgently to avoid sliding into famine, UN humanitarians have said.

"We are concerned that they may be facing an elevated risk of famine if the situation would further deteriorate over the coming months," said Claudia Ah Poe, senior food security adviser at the World Food Program (WFP), speaking at a press conference at UN Geneva.

In a joint alert with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), WFP also warned that 16 other countries also face a "major (food) emergency – or series of emergencies" in the next three to six months.

The drivers of these humanitarian crises include long-running conflict and a lack of humanitarian access to communities in need; climate extremes and the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, they said in a new report on food insecurity hotspots.

At-risk nations

At-risk nations include Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo – where 22 million people are acutely food insecure, the highest number ever registered for a single country – Ethiopia, Haiti, and Venezuela.

"These countries already had significant acute food insecurity levels in 2020…and are now facing a risk of a further rapid deterioration over the next months," said WFP's food security advisor Ah Poe.

Pandemic fallout

Data from March to September has also shown that while in many countries COVID-19-related restrictions were progressively lifted, allowing economic activity to resume, food insecurity has worsened in 27 countries, with up to 104.6 million people in need.

In 2019, the number of people facing similar levels of food insecurity in these 27 countries was 97.6 million, according to WFP.

"In those 27 countries, the number of people that are already facing acute food insecurity is (sic) more than 100 million already. Analysis obviously is continuously ongoing so we expect this number to increase much more," said Poe.

"And earlier on this year, we… had estimated in the countries where we are operating – which is around 80 countries – an additional 121 million people would be at risk of falling into food insecurity."

(With input from agencies)