The number of hungry people living in conflict zones is rising, with eight countries recording crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity in at least a quarter of their people, food agencies warned the UN security council.
In Yemen, 17 million people, or 60% of the population, are facing acute food insecurity, while in South Sudan, the figure is 4.8 million or 45% of its people. The other countries ranked as having the highest proportions of food insecure people were Syria, Lebanon, Central African Republic, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Somalia, according to a report by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Separately, there was a dramatic rise in the numbers reporting acute hunger in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 7.7 million people are now at crisis levels, up from 5.9 million six months ago; Afghanistan, where figures for those encountering acute hunger have increased over the same period, from 4.3 million to 7.6 million; and Sudan, where 3.8 million people are in food crisis, compared with 3.5 million half a year earlier.
Somalia was the only country of the 16 analysed where food security had improved.
Francis Mwanza, head of the WFP office in London, said: “For the World Food Programme, the price of conflict is becoming too high. Eighty per cent of WFP expenditure occurs in conflict zones.
“The fear is if we continue having no access in a number of countries, including Yemen, we may have famine conditions in some areas. If we want to reach zero hunger, ending conflict is a major step in reaching that goal.”
In 2016, the number of hungry people in the world increased for the first time since the turn of the century, to 815 million people, with more than half of them – 489 million – in conflict zones. The intensification of conflict was a key driver of the surge in hunger levels, after decades of decline.
The report warned conflict threatened all four of what it described as the “pillars of food stability” – availability, access, utilisation and stability – in “many interlinked” ways. And it said that food insecurity in itself exacerbates tensions and risk of conflict.