Six-fold increase in people suffering famine-like conditions since pandemic began

Six-fold increase in people suffering famine-like conditions since pandemic began

  • Conflict, climate and covid - the three lethal Cs fuelling hunger 
  • People dying from hunger outpacing Covid-19 fatalities, warns Oxfam 
  • 11 people are likely dying every minute from hunger 

9 July 2021

Today, a new Oxfam report warns that as many as 11 people are likely dying of hunger and malnutrition each minute, outpacing the current global death rate of Covid-19 which is roughly seven people per minute. 

Oxfam’s report, ‘The Hunger Virus Multiplies’, says that conflict has remained the primary cause of hunger since the pandemic began, pushing over half a million people into famine-like conditions - a startling six-fold increase since 2020. This coupled with the climate emergency and economic shocks due to Covid-19 has resulted in 155 million people, a 20 million jump from last year’s figures, now living in crisis levels of food insecurity or worse.  

In addition, mass unemployment and severely disrupted food production have led to a 40 percent surge in global food prices - the highest rise in over a decade.  

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “Today, unrelenting conflict on top of Covid-19 economic fallout, and a worsening climate crisis, have pushed more than 520,000 people to the brink of starvation. 

“Despite this, global military spending rose by $51 billion - enough to cover six and a half times what the UN says it needs to stop people going hungry.  

“Starvation continues to be used as a weapon of war as civilians are deprived of access to food and water including that provided by aid agencies. People can’t live safely, or find food, when their markets are being bombed, crops and livestock destroyed, and humanitarian access hindered.” 

Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen have had protracted crisis and conflict for many years, some for decades, without respite, and continue to experience extreme levels of hunger. 

More than 350,000 people in Ethiopia's Tigray region are experiencing famine-like conditions according to recent IPC analysis - the largest number recorded since Somalia in 2011, when a quarter of a million Somalis died. 

Mulu Gebre, 26, who had to flee her hometown in Tigray, Ethiopia while nine months pregnant, told Oxfam: “I came to Mekele because I heard that food and milk were offered for infants. When I arrived here, I couldn’t find food even for myself. I need food especially for my child, who is now only four months –and already born underweight.” 

Clarken concluded: “Already at-risk groups - informal workers, women, displaced people and other marginalised communities - continue to be hit hardest by conflict, disruptive climate related events and the economic disruption brought on by Covid-19.

“Governments across the world must stop conflict from continuing to fuel catastrophic hunger and instead work to address the drivers of food insecurity and ensure aid agencies can safely and quickly reach those in need. Donor governments must immediately and fully fund the UN’s humanitarian appeal to help save lives now, and the international Community via the Security Council, of which Ireland is a member, must hold to account all those who use hunger as a weapon of war.” 



Caroline Reid, Communications Manager,

Notes to the editor 

  • Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview.
  • A multi-country written, visual and b-roll content are available upon request.
  • Download 'The Hunger Virus Multiplies': How the coronavirus is fuelling hunger in a hungry world'. 
  • Some examples of the report hunger hotspots include: 
  1. India: Spiralling Covid-19 infections devastated public health as well as income, particularly for migrant workers and farmers, who were forced to leave their crops in the field to rot. Over 70 percent of people surveyed in 12 states have downgraded their diet because they could not afford to pay for food. School closures have also deprived 120 million children of their main meal.  
  2. Yemen: Blockades, conflict and a fuel crisis have caused staple food prices to more than double since 2016. Humanitarian aid was slashed by half, curtailing humanitarian agencies’ response and cutting food assistance for five million people. The number of people experiencing famine-like conditions is expected to almost triple to 47,000 by July 2021. 
  3. South Sudan: Ten years since its independence, over 100,000 people are now facing famine-like conditions. Continued violence and flooding disrupted agriculture in the past year and forced 4.2 million people to flee their homes. Less than 20 percent of the $1.68 billion UN Humanitarian appeal for South Sudan has so far been funded. 

There is no end to hunger unless drastic collective measures are taken to end the underlying injustices fuelling hunger. As governments rebuild after the Coronavirus pandemic, seven urgent actions are required to stop the growing hunger crisis and build more just and sustainable food systems that work for all people: 

  1. Provide emergency assistance to save lives now: Donor governments must fully fund the UN’s global food security appeal and ensure it directly reaches those most affected. Governments must also scale up social protection, including financing a global social protection fund, and support small-scale farmers and pastoralists to restock and prepare for the next planting season. 
  2. Guarantee humanitarian assistance reaches people: Conflict parties must facilitate immediate humanitarian access to help save civilians from starvation. Where aid is blocked, the international community must act to stop hunger being used as a weapon of war and hold perpetrators accountable. 
  3. Forge inclusive and sustainable peace: Warring parties must forge inclusive and sustainable peace that puts human security first and addresses urgent hunger in conflict-affected countries. Leaders should live up to their commitments to include marginalised groups including youth, women, and minorities in peace processes. Ceasefires have been shown to last longer and be more effective where women are actively involved in the negotiations.  
  4. Build fairer, more resilient, and sustainable food systems: Governments must commit to bolder actions at the upcoming UN Committee on World Food Security meeting in October in order to put fair, gender-just, resilient, and sustainable food systems at the heart of the post-pandemic recovery. Governments and the private sector must also scale-up investments in small-scale and agro-ecological food production, ensure producers earn a fair income by establishing minimum producer prices and other support mechanisms, and ensure workers earn a living wage.  
  5. Promote women’s leadership in Covid-19 solutions: Women must have the opportunity to lead on decisions related to the pandemic response and recovery, including how to address our broken food system. Action is also needed to address discrimination faced by women food producers on issues such as access to land, markets, information, credit, extension services, and technology.  
  6. Support a People’s Vaccine: To help prevent new virus variants from threatening the health of the world and its economy, G7 governments must end pharmaceutical Covid-19 vaccines monopoles to help developing countries vaccinate their populations and prevent millions more from falling into extreme poverty. 
  7. Take urgent action to tackle the climate crisis: Ahead of this year’s Climate Summit in December, rich polluting nations must dramatically cut emissions, keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees and help smallholder food producers adapt to climate change. 
  • Since the pandemic began, Oxfam has reached nearly 15 million of the world’s most vulnerable people with food, cash assistance, and clean water, as well as with projects to support farmers. We work together with more than 694 partners across 68 countries. Oxfam aims to reach millions of people over the coming months and is urgently seeking funding to support its programmes across the world.

Conflict is the primary factor pushing nearly 100 million people in 23 conflict-torn countries into crisis or worse levels of food insecurity. Source: GRFC 2021.

  • Except for Madagascar, all countries facing famine-like conditions are torn by conflict. Most countries facing IPC Phase 4 (including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Syria and Nigeria) are also hit by conflict. 
  • The collective three drivers of hunger, Covid, conflict, and climate impacted 20 out of the 25 countries mentioned in this report.
  • According to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) 2020 Global Report, 48 million people were living in internal displacement as a result of conflict and violence in 59 countries and territories as of 31 December 2020. This figure is the highest ever recorded.
  • Further information on report methodology sources available upon request
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