The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) issued a stark warning on Tuesday on global food security, estimating that every one percent cut in food assistance risks pushing more than 400,000 people towards the brink of starvation.
This comes as WFP is being forced to drastically cut rations in most of its operations as international humanitarian funding dries up.
Experts at the agency estimate that, as a result, an additional 24 million people could slip into emergency hunger over the next 12 months – a 50 percent increase on the current level.
“With the number of people around the world facing starvation at record levels, we need to be scaling up life-saving assistance – not cutting it,” said WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain. “If we don’t receive the support we need to avert further catastrophe, the world will undoubtedly see more conflict, more unrest, and more hunger. Either we fan the flames of global instability, or we work quickly to put out the fire.”
According to the WFP, there are currently 345 million people facing acute food insecurity worldwide, with 40 million of these in emergency levels of hunger.
WFP however has been struggling to meet the global need for food assistance while facing a funding shortfall of over 60 percent this year – the highest in WFP’s 60-year history. And for the first time ever, WFP has seen contributions decreasing while needs steadily increase.
WFP experts said they fear that a humanitarian “doom loop” is being triggered, where the agency is being forced to save only the starving, at the cost of the hungry. Massive reductions have already been implemented in almost half of WFP operations, including significant cuts in hotspots such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Jordan, Palestine, South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria.
“There’s only one way out of this,” McCain said. “We need to fund emergency operations to feed the hungry today while simultaneously investing in long-term solutions that address the root causes of hunger. Our shared goal must be ending the vicious, unsustainable, and costly cycle of crisis and response.”
Afghanistan is one country already affected by the funding shortfalls as WFP was forced to make a 66 percent cut, involving eight million people, in May.
In addition to the May cut, last week WFP was forced to take further drastic measures citing a “massive funding shortfall” and said it will only be able to provide emergency assistance to three million people per month across the country from October.
“Amid already worrying levels of hunger and malnutrition, we are obliged to choose between the hungry and the starving, leaving millions of families scrambling for their next meal,” said Hsiao-Wei Lee, WFP’s Country Director and Representative in Afghanistan.
This brings the total number of people forced to go without WFP support this year in the country to a staggering 10 million – whilst more than one-third of the population go to bed hungry every night.
The UN agency has said that these additional cuts will add to an already “dire situation” and have severe consequences for civilians.
The cuts also mean that approximately 1.4 million new and expecting mothers and their children are no longer receiving specialized food designed to prevent malnutrition, which will cause a sharp rise in admissions to nutrition centers, the agency warned.