A roiling combination of climate crisis, pandemic shock, and war has disrupted food production, leading to a six-fold increase in people suffering famine-like conditions, according to a new report from Oxfam.
“The Hunger Virus Multiplies” estimates that, worldwide, 11 people are now dying from hunger every minute, with more than 500,000 on the brink of starvation. The death rate from famine is now higher even than that of COVID-19, which currently kills seven people per minute.
The primary driver, says Oxfam, is human conflict. “Instead of battling the pandemic, warring parties fought each other, too often landing the last blow to millions already battered by weather disasters and economic shocks,” the organization writes. “Mass unemployment and severely disrupted food production have led to a 40% surge in global food prices—the highest rise in over a decade.”
Meanwhile, cruelly misplaced priorities and grotesque levels of inequality have left little support for those who need it. Even during the pandemic, military spending rose by US$51 billion, “enough to cover six and a half times what the UN says it needs to stop people going hungry.”
Oxfam Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said the pandemic has acted to reveal and exacerbate existing inequalities. “The wealth of the 10 richest people—nine of whom are men—increased by $413 billion last year. This is 11 times more than what the UN says is needed for its entire global humanitarian assistance,” she said.
Stressing the extent to which women and girls (“too often eating last and eating least”) as well as other marginalized groups, like informal workers, suffer from conflict-exacerbated hunger, Bucher urged governments of countries in active conflict to take action to stop the violence, and governments of donor countries to “immediately and fully fund the UN’s humanitarian appeal to help save lives now.” She also asked Security Council members to “hold to account all those who use hunger as a weapon of war.”
A separate report from the United Nations warns that the pandemic has been a key driver in a huge global leap in malnutrition levels, with children under five suffering the greatest harm, The Guardian writes. While researchers are still collecting data on the effects, it estimates that some 22% of the world’s youngest children are stunted in their growth.