Global hunger’s complex realities

Why is global hunger increasing? How is it affecting people? What can we do about it?

Nyawar Mapieny Gathoul, 17, holds her six-month-old son, Zoal Mapiny Gai. Nyawar stands with some of her younger brothers and sisters, for whom she also cares because their parents have died. They live on monthly food distributions from MCC partner SSUDRA. The young family lives in Rubkona informal settlement camp in Unity State, South Sudan. — Tadeo Santonino/MCC Nyawar Mapieny Gathoul, 17, holds her six-month-old son, Zoal Mapiny Gai. Nyawar stands with some of her younger brothers and sisters, for whom she also cares because their parents have died. They live on monthly food distributions from MCC partner SSUDRA. The young family lives in Rubkona informal settlement camp in Unity State, South Sudan. — Tadeo Santonino/MCC

Nyawar Mapieny Gathoul’s baby and her siblings are hungry. The father of Nyawar’s 6-month-old isn’t around to help and, at 17, the young mother also cares for her seven siblings because their parents died.

Gathoul is hardworking, but the family has only enough food for one meal a day.

Violence forced them from their home. They found safety in a displaced persons camp in South Sudan. A Mennonite Central Committee partner distributed monthly food rations.

But then floodwaters came. The surging water destroyed the family’s small home. They waded barefoot through camp, surveying their waterlogged possessions.

For Gathoul, it was loss upon loss, grief upon grief. Basic supplies became even more difficult to access.

The factors that contribute to the family’s lack of food are complex and varied. Gathoul’s story is just a snapshot of the hunger crisis raging throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

To help understand this crisis, MCC disaster response director Bruce Guenther responded to a few questions.

What is happening with the global food supply right now?

Right now, 10% of the world goes to bed hungry. Of those, around 50 million people are at crisis levels of hunger, teetering on the edge of famine. That’s up from 27 million in 2019 before the pandemic began. This hunger crisis has been triggered by several factors. Conflict, disaster and rising food prices are the main things that disrupt ability to access food.

What does the conflict in Ukraine have to do with global hunger?

Ukraine is a major food producer, particularly for sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Ukraine exports goods like wheat, maize (corn), barley and sunflower oil. The conflict in Ukraine is having a direct impact on global food supplies, with ports closed and goods unable to leave. This means food prices are rising around the world. In Syria, for example, the cost of MCC food assistance programs has increased by approximately 22%.

Are there other factors that contribute to the crisis?

Absolutely. We are seeing other factors come into play, such as changing weather patterns. In areas like South Sudan, devastating flooding is wiping out crops and creating even higher need for humanitarian response. Then we look at the transportation costs involved in getting food to families who need it — the soaring price of oil has a huge impact on food supply. A lot of things are happening at once, and the effects are really adding up.

How does conflict make global hunger worse?

There are four main ways someone accesses food. The first is to produce it yourself. The second is through labor — you work and earn a wage, then buy food with that money. Third, you trade for it; maybe you raise goats, then trade those goats for chickens or eggs. Fourth, you access food through transfers, such as social safety nets like emergency food assistance.

Conflict disrupts every one of those. People may lose their jobs when conflict breaks out. Or they might be displaced from their land. Essential goods become more expensive, and people sell assets. And, logistically, emergency food distribution is much more challenging in conflict settings.

What is MCC hearing from partners about the hunger crisis?

Partners tell us this crisis is severely impacting people’s everyday lives. Food prices are too high for many families to afford what they need. (The same is true for many Canadian and U.S. families.) Costs are also higher for MCC to buy food locally and provide food assistance for people who were already vulnerable because of conflict or drought. This pushes more and more people into poverty and desperate situations.

What is MCC doing to respond?

We are scaling up humanitarian response globally, including significant responses in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, South Sudan and Zimbabwe. We also have our largest emergency food assistance programs in Syria and Lebanon. We need more resources to continue to provide the same level of assistance to people we were already supporting.

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