Food and Water

47 million people in the world are on the edge of famine. What can be done?

Conflict is the biggest cause of hunger.

Conflict is the biggest cause of hunger. Image: Unsplash/Timothy Barlin

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Russia’s war in Ukraine is worsening world hunger, with 47 million people in 81 countries on the edge of famine, the World Food Programme warns.
  • The number of people facing acute food insecurity has more than doubled from 135 million before the pandemic to 276 million, it says.
  • Solutions include self-watering food growing boxes and revamping air strips for aid deliveries.

The world is facing a “hunger catastrophe”, the World Food Programme (WFP) is warning.

The United Nations food aid organization says at least 47 million people in 81 countries could be driven to the edge of famine, because of conflict, climate shocks, COVID-19 and soaring costs for food and fuel.

A “deadly combination” of these four factors coincides with a “chronic shortfall” in funding, with the WFP expected to raise less than half of the $18.9 billion it needs in 2022.


War leads to more hunger

Conflict is the biggest cause of hunger – 60% of the world’s hungry people live in areas impacted by war and violence. War in Ukraine is causing more hunger, by taking away people’s income sources and forcing them to flee their homes, the WFP says.

Climate shocks around the world displaced 30 million people from their homes in 2020, as crops and livelihoods were destroyed, meaning people were unable to feed themselves.

More than 80% of the world’s population live in areas prone to natural shocks, the WFP adds. There needs to be investment in building resilience, as an ‘insurance policy’ against vulnerability in the future, it says.

COVID-19 and climbing food costs

At the same time, COVID-19 is driving ‘unprecedented’ levels of hunger. Before the pandemic, in 2019, 135 million people globally faced acute food insecurity. This has now more than doubled to 276 million, the WFP warns.

The cost of delivering aid is also soaring. The WFP gets more than half of the wheat it supplies from Ukraine and Russia. Rising prices because of the war means the organization is now paying 30% more for food compared to 2019 – an extra $42 million a month.

“Poorer countries will suffer the most,” the WFP says of this food crisis. “From Yemen to Syria, from Lebanon to Sudan, from South Sudan to Ethiopia, the ripple effects created by the bullets and bombs landing in Ukraine will be felt far and wide.”

Hunger Map: Prevalence of insufficient food consumption.
Hunger Map: 60% of the world’s hungry live in areas impacted by war and violence. Image: World Food Programme

Food shortage solutions

The WFP runs projects in 117 countries and territories to prevent and fight famine. In Africa, for example, it is helping to plant tree nurseries in the desert region of Chad. These produce around 1 million seedlings a year and help to regenerate degraded land, grow food and offset climate change.

In Sudan, a range of projects to support food insecurity and malnutrition includes training local people in poultry farming and the nutritional benefits of eggs – which are not traditionally eaten in the region.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the WFP’s UN Humanitarian Air Service has funded the revamp of a crumbling airstrip in Tshikapa, near the country’s eastern border with Angola. This will help to get humanitarian aid to the region and open up wider commercial opportunities.

Food in a box

Hunger solutions submitted on Uplink, the World Economic Forum’s innovation crowdsourcing platform, include a self-watering food growing box and mobile phone app.


People can use the system to grow vegetables, small fruit trees or shrubs indoors or outdoors, in a water-efficient and sustainable way, says the company behind the project, SFG Technologies.

It is based in Mpumalanga Province in eastern South Africa and has won a three-year contract to supply the boxes and apps to the Department of Agriculture there.

“The self-watering design makes the irrigation extremely water efficient, and enables the plants to thrive even if the owners are not present for many days (even weeks),” the company says.

The app can be used by individuals or groups and helps to advise people on what crops to grow and when to plant them. Other information includes the financial and nutritional value of the crop.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to help ensure global food security?

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Related topics:
Food and WaterIndustries in DepthResilience, Peace and Security
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