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ROME: The World Food Programme says 155 million people across 55 countries face acute food insecurity caused by conflict, extreme weather and economic shocks from COVID-19.

The number hit a five-year high in 2020 according to the latest annual report by the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) - an international alliance of the UN, the EU, government and non-government agencies.

Between 2016 and 2020, populations in 39 countries affected by high levels of acute food insecurity increased from 94 to 147 million people.

Of these, around 133 000 people in Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen faced the threat of widespread death. Another 28 million people in 38 countries or territories were one step away from starvation.

According to the report the key drivers behind rising acute food insecurity in 2020 were:
• conflict (pushing almost 100 million people into acute food insecurity in 20 countries/territories, up from 77 million in 2019);
• economic shocks - often due to COVID-19 - replaced weather events as the second driver of acute food insecurity both in terms of numbers of people and countries affected (over 40 million people in 17 countries/territories, up from 24 million and 8 countries in 2019);
• weather extremes (around 16 million people in 15 countries/territories, down from 34 million in 25 countries/territories).

To address these challenges GNAFC says it will increase efforts to promote resilient agri-food systems that are socially, environmentally and economically sustainable while supporting the UN Food Systems Summit, the Convention on Biodiversity, the G20 Summit, the Climate Change Conference, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the G7 initiative to avert famine.

“Conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing. We need to tackle hunger and conflict together to solve either…We must do everything we can to end this vicious cycle. Addressing hunger is a foundation for stability and peace,” said UN secretary general António Guterres.

In March this year he set up a high-level task force with several UN agencies and NGO partners to help prevent famine in the most affected countries. Guterres has some prior experience: In 2005 the UN General Assembly elected him High Commissioner for Refugees – a position he was to hold for a decade.

Founded by the EU, FAO and WFP in 2016, the Global Network Against Food Crises is an alliance of humanitarian and development actors working together to prevent, prepare for, and respond to food crises and support the Sustainable Development Goal to End Hunger (SDG 2).
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