Acute food insecurity is on the rise as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and conflict, UN agencies said.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme identified 23 “hunger hot spots”, with Ethiopia and Madagascar now on the “highest alert” level.
A joint new report says that fighting and blockades are cutting off aid to many of those on the brink of famine, with the UN agencies saying that a lack funding was damaging relief efforts.
The FAO and WFP said that conflict, Covid-related economic problems and global warming are likely to push food insecurity up over the coming months.
They also said that locust infestations in southern Africa and the Horn of Africa were of particular concern.
“The vast majority of those on the verge are farmers. Alongside food assistance, we must do all we can to help them resume food production themselves, so that families and communities can move back towards self-sufficiency and not just depend on aid to survive,” said FAO chief Qu Dongyu.
“That’s difficult without access, and without adequate funding – and so far, support to agriculture as a key means of preventing widespread famine remains largely overlooked by donors, unfortunately. Without such support to agriculture, humanitarian needs will keep skyrocketing, that’s inevitable,” he said.
“Families that rely on humanitarian assistance to survive are hanging by a thread. When we cannot reach them that thread is cut, and the consequences are nothing short of catastrophic,” said David Beasley, the WFP’s executive director.
The 23 hot spots identified are Afghanistan, Angola, Central Africa Republic, Central Sahel, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The FAO and WFP previously said that 41 million people were on the brink of famine unless urgent relief was forthcoming.
The increased concern in Ethiopia is linked to the Tigray region and the conflict there, with more than 400,000 people expected to face “catastrophic conditions” by September.
Mr Beasley said that the WFP would run out of food for Tigray on Friday.
“It takes 100 trucks per day to reach everyone we are aiming to feed – 170 trucks bound for Tigray with food and other supplies are stuck right now in Afar and can’t leave. These trucks must be allowed to move now. People are starving,” he said.
In Madagascar, the worst drought in 40 years in the southern half of the country has combined with soaring food prices, sandstorms and pests affecting crops to leave 28,000 people on the brink of famine.