Tag: food security

‘There’s a path towards death that people travel’: how hunger destroys lives and communities

hands, food, wheat

In the face of record malnutrition, Isabel Choat‘s article in The Guardian emphasises the urgent need for aid to prevent people from suffering and dying.

“Dr Neal Russell, a paediatric adviser with MSF, says: “There is a path towards death that people travel. Until they are at a late stage, deficiencies can be corrected by giving food, but beyond a certain point the body cannot regulate itself, even with treatment.” (…) Though malnutrition affects millions of people, especially children, there is still much that is unknown about it.”

“What is known is that most people suffering from malnutrition die from disease or infection rather than starvation itself. Lack of food affects the immune system, shrinking the lymph nodes so they produce fewer white blood cells. The existing white blood cells don’t have sufficient energy to do their job in fighting off bacteria or healing a wound. A person is much more vulnerable to diseases such as malaria or conditions such as pneumonia and sepsis.”

A dystopian crisis

““Zero hunger” by 2030 was one of 17 sustainable development goals set out by the UN in 2015. Today, the UN predicts that the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030. Far from the situation improving, millions are trapped in the worst hunger crisis in living memory. The World Food Programme says 50 million people in 45 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.”

““A few years ago, things were gradually getting better and now it is going in the other direction, rapidly. It’s extremely worrying when you think about the impact on real people. What shocks me is the lack of outrage – it’s horrifying,” Russell says.”

“A letter to UN member states as they gather for the 2022 UN general assembly this week was the latest call for immediate funding to prevent suffering now and in the future. “In a world of plenty, leaving people to starve is a policy choice,” reads the letter, which is signed by 238 NGOs. “The lack of political will and institutional failure to act quickly before the worst case hits means people are being left to lurch from crisis to crisis. People are not starving; they are being starved.””

“These are needless deaths that will be largely ignored by a world distracted by extreme weather, the cost of living crisis and political upheavals. Aid agencies have the knowledge and ability to address food insecurity, but not the funding, says Alexandra Rutishauser-Perera, head of nutrition at Action Against Hunger UK. “We know how to [address food insecurity] better and better, but we are not given the means to implement all we know. Aid is not arriving fast enough and is not large enough to improve the situation. For the moment, it’s about trying to reduce the number of lives being lost.””

“Russell describes watching this crisis unfold before his eyes as “dystopian”. He feels a responsibility to communicate what hunger does to people, but struggles to find the right words. “I can go into my safe zone [using medical terminology], but I have never found the language to describe the horror and injustice of seeing a child dying from malnutrition.””

This article was first published by Isabel Choat in The Guardian.

The war risks increasing world hunger

Crops are essential for our survival.

The war in Ukraine is sending shockwaves around the world, reports the Swedish magazine Syre. One of all the effects is sky-high wheat prices and extremely high prices for fertilizers.

Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, as is Russia, which is now subject to extensive sanctions. As a result of the war, the price of wheat in Chicago broke records even though the increase has now stalled. But, the world has not seen such high prices since the food crisis in 2008. At the same time, future harvests in Ukraine are threatened, when labor has to pull out of the army.

Sharply increased prices and more hunger

“There are great risks with this development, poor countries with large cities will notice sharply increased prices and we will see more hunger.”

Madeleine Fogde, Program Director of SIANI and Senior Project Manager at SEI.

Madeleine Fogde believes that it will be extra noticeable for poor countries with decades of strong urbanization behind them like Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Egypt. Countries that import large quantities of wheat from Ukraine at the same time as decades of heavy urbanization have made parts of the population particularly vulnerable, as they can no longer contribute to their own food supply.

Factors affecting food security worldwide

According to the news agency Reuters, Egypt is now investigating whether the country can change trading partners due to unsafe transport from Ukraine. The EU is one of the alternatives. But the war, sanctions, export bans and more expensive production due to higher diesel prices are not the only things that risk affecting food security worldwide.

Higher prices for fertilizer and smaller harvests

The price of fertilizer is now also rising. Russia, together with Belarus, is a giant in the global market for phosphorus and potassium – two important raw materials to produce fertilizers.

According to Madeleine Fogde, higher prices for fertilizer can be managed by Swedish farmers and consumers – although this can also lead to smaller harvests, higher food prices and that individuals are hit hard.

For this year’s growing season, most Swedish farmers have already bought fertilizer. But the Norwegian company Yara, which is one of the world’s global players in the fertilizer market, writes in a press release that there are no short-term solutions, and that one of the consequences could be that only “the privileged part of the world has access to enough food.”

Food security uncertainty is increasing worldwide

“We will see more hunger. Although many African countries cannot afford mineral fertilizers, it can be important for countries such as South Africa that produce food for the entire region.”

Madeleine Fogde, SIANI Program Director and SEI Senior Project Manager.

A similar message was given by the German Agriculture Minister Cem Oezdemir ahead of a special G7 meeting on the food situation in the world recently.

“The supply of food in Germany and the European Union is secure, but major shortages can be expected in some countries outside the EU, especially where shortages already exist due to problems such as drought,” he said in a statement.

Even before the war, UN’s ambition to eradicate hunger by 2030 was met with setbacks. Last year, the annual report from the Global Network Against Food Crisis (GNAFC) showed that food security uncertainty is increasing worldwide and that the number of people in need of emergency assistance was the highest in five years.

“The pandemic has contributed to increasing the number of hungry people,” Madeleine Fogde said.

Major UN meeting on agriculture and food security

In the long run, she hopes that the development can be turned for the better. Following a major UN meeting last year focusing on agriculture and food security, many countries have paved the way for them to be able to secure the supply of nutritious food. Plans Madeleine Fogde now hopes will become a reality, driven by the increasingly uncertain world situation.

“But the change will take time and it will be difficult,” she said. In Sweden, she hopes that the high prices of fertilizers can speed up the transition to a more circular agriculture, something that would both make agriculture less vulnerable and reduce environmental problems such as eutrophication. “I think it will drive development and innovation,” Madeleine Fogde concluded.


News article published by Syre 9 March 2022. English translation and editing by Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer at Stockholm Environment Institute for SweDev.