NAIROBI, Kenya — In Afghanistan, starving children are flocking to hospitals. In Burkina Faso, a West African country, a mother mourns the child she has just lost during an arduous trek out of a conflict zone. From Syria to Central America, families go to bed hungry.
The grain-carrying ship that left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday, the first since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, also carried fragile hopes that it could stem a global tide of hunger. Ukraine’s bulky stores contain 20 million tonnes of grain – trillions of trapped calories that could ease a food crisis that UN Secretary-General António Guterres says could last for years.
But experts say the immediate effect of Ukrainian grain exports on the global food crisis could be modest, or even felt.
Aid officials say it is unclear how much grain will reach suffering people in places like the Horn of Africa, where a four-year drought has left 18 million people facing starvation strict.
And they say the scale of the crisis – years of preparation and fueled by wars, climate shocks and the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic – is so immense that no gain would be a silver bullet. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, as many as 50 million people in 45 countries are on the brink of starvation. In the 20 most affected countries, the situation is expected to worsen significantly by the end of the summer, he added.
This is just the extreme suffering in the growing specter of hunger. Around the world, as many as 828 million people – one-tenth of the world’s population – were undernourished last year, the highest figure in decades, the United Nations Health Organization recently estimated. food and agriculture.
However, funding for humanitarian aid and development assistance falls far short of what is needed. In Yemen, where 60% of the population depends on food aid, aid workers have reduced rations to make them go further.
“It’s the only country I’ve worked in where food is taken from the hungry to feed the hungry,” said Richard Ragan, director of the World Food Program in Yemen.
Not so long ago, the world was well on its way to ending hunger.
Between 2005 and 2014, the number of undernourished people, as measured by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, fell by almost 30%, from 806 million to 572 million. Stunting rates in children have dropped and the prevalence of breastfeeding has started to climb. The ambitious goal of ending world hunger by 2030, agreed by world leaders at a summit in 2015, seemed within reach.
But much of those gains have come from China and India, where economic booms have lifted tens of millions out of poverty. In Africa, where 20% of the population is undernourished, progress has been extremely slow. After 2014, the hunger figure stagnated for several years, until it suddenly exploded.
Wars and climatic shocks have been the main drivers. A wave of conflict has escalated in Africa and the Middle East, including in Yemen, Africa’s Sahel region – and Afghanistan.
Ask Saad Ahmed.
Since the Taliban took power a year ago, causing an economic collapse, life has become a battle for survival, Ahmed said. The father of six recently sold a carpet to buy food for his children.
And as he lined up for food aid alongside hundreds of others in a once-affluent neighborhood of the capital, Kabul, Ahmed said he couldn’t even turn to relatives for help. help.
“They don’t have anything either,” he said. “How can I ask them for help? »
(This article originally appeared in The New York Times.)