Over 113 million suffered acute hunger last year: UN

A malnourished girl eating a tin of peas as her family and friends shared a meal in their village in the north-western province of Hajjah, Yemen, in February. Yemen was among the eight nations accounting for two-thirds of the total number of people w
A malnourished girl eating a tin of peas as her family and friends shared a meal in their village in the north-western province of Hajjah, Yemen, in February. Yemen was among the eight nations accounting for two-thirds of the total number of people worldwide exposed to the risk of famine, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation said in its 2019 global report on food crises.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • More than 113 million people across 53 countries experienced "acute hunger" last year because of wars and climate disasters, with Africa the worst-hit region, the United Nations said yesterday.

Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Syria were among the eight nations accounting for two-thirds of the total number of people worldwide exposed to the risk of famine, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in its 2019 global report on food crises.

Launched three years ago, the annual study takes stock of the countries facing the greatest difficulties.

Africa was "disproportionately" affected, as close to 72 million people on the continent suffered acute hunger, the FAO's emergencies director Dominique Burgeon told Agence France-Presse yesterday.

Conflict and insecurity remained key factors, along with economic turbulence and climate-related shocks like drought and floods, the report found.

In countries on the verge of famine, "up to 80 per cent of the population depend on agriculture. They need both emergency humanitarian aid for food and measures to help boost agriculture", Mr Burgeon said.

The report highlighted the strain put on countries hosting large numbers of refugees, including neighbouring nations of war-torn Syria as well as Bangladesh, which has received more than a million Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.

The FAO said it also expected the number of displaced people to increase "if the political and economic crisis persists in Venezuela", which is likely to declare a food emergency this year. Mr Burgeon said he was concerned by the "important and significative rise" in poverty in Venezuela, as it grapples with dire economic and living conditions worsened by an ongoing political crisis.

Globally, the study noted that the overall situation slightly improved last year compared with 2017, when 124 million people suffered acute hunger.

The drop can partially be attributed to the fact that some countries in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region, for instance, were less affected by weather disasters that had struck in previous years.

However, the FAO warned that the year-on-year trend of more than 100 million people facing famine was unlikely to change in the face of continued crises.

Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria all suffered bad droughts last year, which severely hit agricultural output.

The FAO also stressed that "high levels of acute and chronic malnutrition in children living in emergency conditions remained of grave concern".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2019, with the headline 'Over 113 million suffered acute hunger last year: UN'. Print Edition | Subscribe