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Number of Starving People Surged to 124 Million Last Year Because "People Won't Stop Shooting at Each Other," Says UN Expert

"Wars and conflicts are driving hunger in a way we've never seen before," says head of World Food Program

Female and malnourished child sit on a hospital cot. (Photo: Marco Frattini/WFP)

Largely due to armed conflicts, there has been "a staggering and stomach-churning 55 percent increase" in the number of acutely hungry people worldwide over the past two years, according to the head of the U.N. food agency.

"The consequences of conflict and climate change are stark: millions of more people severely, even desperately, hungry. The fighting must stop now and the world must come together to avert these crises."
David Beasley,
World Food Program

Addressing the U.N. Security Council by video on Friday, World Food Program (WFP) executive director David Beasley explained that the number of hungry people across the globe is rapidly growing because "people won't stop shooting at each other."

"Wars and conflicts are driving hunger in a way we've never seen before," he said.

The WFP found that the number of acutely hungry people—meaning they could soon die without food—rose to 124 million. Beasley pointed out that 60 percent of the 815 million chronically hungry people—those who do not know where they will get their next meal—live in areas experiencing armed conflicts.

"Conflict leads to food insecurity. And food insecurity can also stoke instability and tension which trigger violence," he explained. "The link between hunger and conflict is as strong as it is destructive."

Beasley issued a specific warning about mounting conflicts in Africa's greater Sahel region, noting, "In the five core countries of the Sahel—Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania—acute malnutrition has risen 30 percent in the past five years."

His address followed the release of the WFP's Global Report on Food Crises on Thursday. 

The report found that "conflict continued to be the main driver of acute food insecurity in 18 countries—15 of them in Africa or the Middle East."

While conflict "is the primary reason for most of the world's cases of acute food insecurity," an agency statement noted that "climate disasters—mainly drought—were also major triggers of food crises in 23 countries, two-thirds of them in Africa." An estimated 39 million people experienced acute food insecurity because of the global climate crisis.

"The consequences of conflict and climate change are stark: millions of more people severely, even desperately, hungry. The fighting must stop now and the world must come together to avert these crises often happening right in front of our eyes," Beasley said Thursday.

"This Global Report on Food Crises shows the magnitude of today's crises," he added, "but also shows us that if we bring together political will and today's technology, we can have a world that's more peaceful, more stable, and where hunger becomes a thing of the past."

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