Climate disruption is helping drive rise in global hunger, report says

Global Hunger Index’s latest findings are ‘a terrible indictment’, Mary Robinson says

A Somalian girl carries her sibling at the Mooro Hagar camp in  Somalia’s Bay state, an area that has been subject to extreme drought. Photograph: Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A Somalian girl carries her sibling at the Mooro Hagar camp in Somalia’s Bay state, an area that has been subject to extreme drought. Photograph: Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


Decades of progress in addressing world hunger is being undermined by worsening hunger levels in some countries, due to accelerating climate disruption and conflict, according to the 2019 Global Hunger Index (GHI) report.

Prevalence of global undernourishment – the percentage of the population without regular access to adequate calories – has stagnated since 2015, but the absolute number of people who are undernourished has risen from 785 million in 2015 to 822 million in 2018, it warns.

The rise was greatest in countries in Africa south of the Sahara that are affected by conflict and drought, and was exacerbated by climate change.

Since the early 1990s, the number of disasters related to extreme weather, such as storms, droughts, fires and floods, has doubled, according to the report, compiled jointly by Concern Worldwide and the German NGO Welthungerhilfe. This is reducing yields of major crops, while contributing to food price hikes and income losses.

These disasters have disproportionately harmed those on low incomes and reduced their access to food, confirming the extent to which the most vulnerable people, and those who contributed least to global heating, are worst affected by it.

Climate change is “already exacerbating tension and conflict, destroying livelihoods, driving displacement, worsening economic and gender inequalities, and undermining long-term recovery and sustainable development”, the report says.

This also means a key UN sustainable development goal of “zero hunger” by 2030 is now threatened, it concludes. Progress made since 2000 in reducing hunger on a global scale has been uneven, with hunger persisting in many countries and increasing in other countries.

The report illustrates how climate breakdown is disrupting global food systems, “jeopardising one of the most fundamental rights we all share as human beings – the right to adequate and sufficient food”, former president Mary Robinson says in a foreword to the report.

‘Extremely alarming’

Of countries for which data is available, the Central African Republic suffers from an “extremely alarming” level of hunger, the highest level on the GHI scale, while four countries – Chad, Madagascar, Yemen, and Zambia – suffer from “alarming” levels of hunger. Of the 117 countries ranked, 43 have “serious” levels of hunger.

Nine countries in the “moderate”, “serious”, “alarming”, or “extremely alarming” categories have higher scores today than in 2010 – the Central African Republic, Madagascar, Venezuela, Yemen, Jordan, Malaysia, Mauritania, Lebanon and Oman.

The 14th annual GHI report indicates scores could not be calculated for some countries due to inadequate data. In nine of these – Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria – hunger and undernutrition are causes of significant concern.

“Progress made towards achieving the UN sustainable development goal of zero hunger by 2030 is now under threat or is being reversed,” said Concern Worldwide chief Dominic MacSorley.

“This report shows multiple countries have higher hunger levels now than in 2010, and approximately 45 countries are set to fail to achieve low levels of hunger by 2030,” he added. “Conflict, inequality, and the effects of climate change have all contributed to persistently high levels of hunger and food insecurity around the world.”

Immediate action

This year’s report says climate change is “an increasingly relevant threat to the world’s hungry and vulnerable people that requires immediate action”. It calls for “increased efforts in response to extreme climatic events, violent conflicts and economic slowdowns which continue to drive hunger in many parts of the world”.

Given the number of hungry people and climate trends, Ms Robinson says, “we can no longer afford to regard the 2030 Agenda and the Paris climate agreement as voluntary, and a matter for each member state to decide on its own. Instead, full implementation of both has become imperative in order to secure a liveable world for our children and grandchildren. This requires a change of mindset at the global political level.”

The latest GHI trend “is a terrible global indictment”, the former UN high commissioner for human rights adds. Uneven progress is underlined in the contrast between Ethiopia and Rwanda, which have both made notable progress in reducing hunger over the past 20 years, and the many countries still requiring urgent attention.

The report calls for a prioritising of resilience and adaptation among the most vulnerable groups and regions; better preparation for and responses to disasters; transformation of food systems; an addressing of inequalities; action to mitigate climate change without compromising food and nutrition security, and commitment to “fair financing”.

The 117 countries featured in the index are scored on undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality statistics.