United Nations: Hunger on the rise in Africa
Published in SUNS #8853 dated 25 February 2019

Geneva, 22 Feb (Kanaga Raja) – Food insecurity continues to deteriorate in Africa, and a fifth of the population, or 257 million people, are undernourished today, some 35 million more than in 2015.

This is one of the main findings of a joint report by the Regional Office for Africa of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

According to the joint report, Central and Western Africa have seen the largest deterioration in terms of the rise in the prevalence of undernourishment.

In terms of the number of the undernourished, the rise has been greatest in Western Africa and Eastern Africa.

The report said that overall progress towards achieving the WHO global nutrition targets is too slow at the continental level to hope to achieve them by 2025.

The global nutrition targets for 2025, adopted by WHO Member States in 2012, are as follows:

* achieving a 40 percent reduction in the number of children under five years who are stunted;

* achieving a 50 percent reduction of anaemia in women of reproductive age;

* achieving a 30 percent reduction in low birth weight;

* ensuring that there is no increase in overweight;

* increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months up to at least 50 percent; and

* reducing and maintaining childhood wasting to less than 5 percent.

In a joint foreword to the report, Abebe Haile-Gabriel, Assistant Director-General of the FAO and Regional Representative for Africa, and Vera Songwe, ECA Executive Secretary, said: “The worsening trend in Africa is due to difficult global economic and worsening environmental conditions and, in many countries, conflict and climate variability and extremes, sometimes combined.”

“Economic growth slowed in 2016 due to weak commodity prices, in particular for oil and minerals. Food insecurity has worsened in countries affected by conflict, often exacerbated by drought or floods. For example, in Southern and Eastern Africa, many countries suffered from drought,” they added.

“The deterioration of the food security situation and the lack of progress towards the WHO global nutrition targets makes it imperative for countries to step up their efforts, if they are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition by 2030.”

“The call for greater action remains true even as the economic and climatic situation improves, offering hope of renewed progress in reducing food insecurity and malnutrition on the continent,” they further said.

According to the joint report, globally, the prevalence of undernourishment has risen slightly each year, from 10.6 percent in 2015 to 10.9 percent in 2017.

Today, there are 821 million undernourished people in the world, up from 804 million in 2016 and 784 million in 2015.

For Africa, the deterioration started a year earlier and was strongest in 2015-16 but again rose in 2016-17. Today, 20.4 percent of the continent’s population – 257 million people – are undernourished, up from 19.7 percent – 241 million people – in 2016.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there are 237 million undernourished in 2017, up from 222 million in 2016.

The greatest deterioration between 2015 and 2017 occurred in Central and Western Africa, and in the latter region it has accelerated in 2016-17.

The rise in the prevalence of undernourishment in Western Africa between 2014 and 2016 was strongest in Guinea, Mauritania, Niger and Nigeria.

Nigeria, which accounts for half the population of Western Africa, was affected by deteriorating commodity prices while Niger faced population displacements and civil insecurity.

In Mauritania, local food supplies are stretched by the influx of refugees while Guinea, recovering from the Ebola virus disease, suffered localized production shortfalls.

The food security in Nigeria was also adversely affected by a depreciating currency, leading to high inflation, also reflected in food prices, in particular rice, rising sharply in the second half of 2016.

Eastern and Southern Africa were severely affected by adverse climatic conditions due to the 2015-16 El Nino, one of the strongest recorded, which led to significant losses in crop and livestock production.

In Eastern Africa, a 3.3 percent fall in undernourishment between 2014 and 2016 in Ethiopia, a country that accounts for 25 percent of the population of the sub-region, was outweighed in particular by increases in Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, and Uganda, which, combined, account for a third of the population of the sub-region.

According to the joint report, in Southern Africa the increase in food insecurity over the same period was due to a deterioration in Botswana and South Africa, with the latter accounting for 87 percent of the population of the sub-region.

South Africa experienced a sharp fall in the commodity prices of some of its key exports, leading to weak economic growth.

Although El Nino ended in 2016, it continues to affect weather patterns in some areas.

The report noted that in 2017, global economic conditions improved and African real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth improved to 3.6 percent, up from 2 .2 percent in 2016. The forecast for 2018 and 2019 are for real GDP growth of about 4 percent.

However, climatic conditions remain difficult in many parts of the continent. In parts of the Horn of Africa, notably in Somalia, eastern Kenya and southeastern Ethiopia, recurrent drought continued to disrupt agricultural production in 2017.

Drought and/or conflict led to soaring staple food prices in Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

On the other hand, Southern Africa, so badly affected by drought in 2016, saw improved conditions and harvests in 2017.

Between 2004-06 and 2015-17, the prevalence of undernourishment rose most in the Central African Republic, Uganda, Madagascar, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, and for each country the worsening of the food security situation occurred in the last 5 years or less, said the report.

In the Central African Republic, food insecurity has increased dramatically due to conflict which disrupted production and caused food price inflation, leaving 687,000 people internally displaced in early 2018, a rise of over 70 percent since January 2017.

About 1.6 million people, 34 percent of the total population, were in need of urgent food assistance in early 2018.

In the case of Uganda, the number of undernourished has been inflated by the influx of over 1.4 million migrants and refugees, of which about 1 million alone came from South Sudan.

In addition, poor rainfall and crop and livestock pests and diseases reduced production and contributed to record high maize prices in 2016-17.

The food security situation in Madagascar has deteriorated following several years of extreme weather. By the end of 2016, parts of the country had endured 3 years of consecutive drought leaving about 1.5 million people in the southern and south-eastern part of the country in need of humanitarian assistance.

Zimbabwe also suffered the effects of prolonged drought. Cereal production fell substantially in 2016 and higher prices reduced people’s access to food.

In 2017 production improved considerably, and prices fell, but an expected fall in cereal production in 2018 may put renewed stress on food security in 2018.

Additionally, millions of persons were in need of urgent food assistance due to conflict in early 2017 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Lake Chad Basin (and in particular northeast Nigeria), South Sudan, and Sudan.

By early 2018, millions of individuals continued to be in need of urgent assistance in the same countries.

In addition, civil insecurity and localized conflict caused heightened food insecurity in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, Libya, Mali and the Niger.

Notably, said the report, several countries also made significant progress in the fight against hunger, even under difficult circumstances.

In particular, Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Senegal and Sierra Leone reduced the prevalence of undernourishment by more than 10 percent between 2004-06 and 2015-17.

The report also found that globally, 22.2 percent (151 million) of children under five were stunted in 2017, while in Africa the prevalence was 30.3 percent (59 million) and in sub-Saharan Africa the prevalence was 32.6 percent (54 million).

“While the prevalence continues to slowly decline, the number of stunted children slowly increases each year,” it said.

The recent climatic shocks and conflicts that disrupted agriculture and rural livelihoods have caused deaths and hardship and will leave many children stunted, at considerable cost to themselves and to society, the report cautioned.

It noted that wasting (or thinness) in children under the age of five typically indicates recent and severe weight loss, which is often associated with acute starvation and/or severe disease.

In 2017, about 7.5 percent of children under five (50.5 million) suffered from wasting worldwide.

In Africa, the number was 13.8 million, or 7.1 percent, and most of these wasted children (9.1 million) were in Eastern and Western Africa.

Globally, overweight affected 38.3 million children under the age of five (5.6 percent) in 2017, and their number is steadily rising.

Of these, 9.7 million children are in Africa, and the continental prevalence rate, at 5.0 percent, is quite similar to the global one.

The highest levels of child overweight are observed in Tunisia (14.3 percent), Egypt (15.7 percent) and Libya (22.4 percent).

“There are several factors driving the rise in overweight, complicating policy responses. One policy option that has received much attention is WHO’s recommended 20 percent sugar tax which has been adopted by a small number of African countries,” the report noted.


According to the report, the African continent is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, in part because of the heavy reliance on climate-sensitive activities and in part because of the high levels of poverty and food insecurity that exist.

“The vast majority of farmed land is rain-fed and unsustainable agriculture practices undermine the natural resource base and increase vulnerability to future risks,” it said.

Climate change will also exacerbate land degradation, water stress, and desertification due to demographic pressure and unsustainable land management practices.

Climate change is a fundamental challenge that African policy-makers must address, the report underlined.

Projections of climate change impacts in Africa indicate that between 75 an d 250 million people will be at greater risk of water stress by the 2020s, and 350 to 600 million people by the 2050s, and, under a range of climate change scenarios, the arid land area in Africa may grow by between 5 percent and 8 percent by 2080.

The report pointed out that climate extremes cause deaths, displace people and leave many destitute and hungry.

Over the last 10 years, climate extremes affected an average of 16 million people and caused USD 0.67 billion in damage in Africa, each year.

Climate variability and extremes add another destructive dimension to climate change.

For example, focusing only on mean changes and ignoring climate variability would underestimate the impact of climate change on maize, sorghum and rice yields to 2050 in Tanzania by 3.6, 8.9, and 28.6 percent, respectively.

Globally, there is strong evidence of an increasing trend in recent decades of some types of extreme weather events, including their frequency, intensity and duration.

Many of the countries most at risk from such events are in Africa, where the main drivers of inter-annual and decadal rainfall variability are: Atlantic Ocean and other sea surface temperature patterns for Western Africa and the Sahel; El Nino-Southern Oscillation behaviour for Western, Southern and Eastern Africa; and Indian Ocean dynamics for Eastern and Southern Africa.

These factors have caused natural variability throughout the world and there is evidence that climate variability is increasing.

The 2015-16 El Nino was one of the strongest of the past 100 years and resulted in record-breaking conditions in many tropical and sub-tropical countries.

According to the joint report, Africa also experienced an increase in the economic damage from climatological, meteorological and hydrological disasters.

There were on average 6.6 climatological events (a total of 227 droughts and 25 wildfires recorded), 29.6 hydrological events (a total of 778 floods and 37 landslides were recorded) and 5.9 meteorological events (a total of 217 storms and 6 extreme temperature events were recorded) each year over the 1980-2017 period.

Climatological events occurred an average 5.9 times in the 1980-99 period and then 7.5 times in 2000-17.

Overall, Africa saw a very large number of droughts in the early 1980s, mostly occurring in Western and Eastern Africa, followed by a period of relatively fewer droughts.

The report said that the frequency of droughts increased after about 1995 until 2014, mostly due to more frequent drought occurrences in Eastern Africa, and, to a much lesser extent though, in Western Africa.

The adverse effects of extreme climate events are especially severe in rural areas and in agriculture.

An FAO review of natural disaster impact assessments in developing countries found that some 26 percent of economic losses reported were in the agriculture sector; when only droughts are considered, the share rises to 83 percent.

In sub-Saharan Africa’s semi-arid and sub-humid areas, droughts and floods are the main causes of short-term fluctuations in food production.

If such extreme events become more frequent and severe, they will threaten the stability of food supplies and thus food security, the report emphasised.

The available evidence shows that extreme climate events will adversely affect food security and nutrition through a number of channels, ultimately impacting all four dimensions of food security.

Climate variability and extremes will weaken food production systems and the natural resource base, particular in those areas most at risk of degradation, desertification and intense water stress.

According to the report, coupled with populations that are poor and lack th e capacity to adequately prepare and who often live in countries with weak institutions and social protection systems and limited capacity to respond to shocks, extreme events are a clear and present danger to food security and nutrition of millions of people.

The report said that the recent El Nino experience is illustrative of the damage that comes with climate extreme events.

Classified as one of the most intense and widespread of the past 100 years, it has harmed crop and livestock production, and agricultural livelihoods around the globe, threatening the food security and nutrition of 60 million people.

For example, in Ethiopia, over 10 million people were in need of food and non-food assistance in 2016 and one study estimates that it led to a 13.6 percent fall in agricultural GDP.

By 2050, climate change will cause another 71 million people to be food insecure in the world, over half of whom will be in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Greater urgency in building resilience of households, communities and countries to climate variability and extremes is needed,” said FAO and ECA.

“Strategies towards climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction must be aligned as well as coordinated with interventions in nutrition and food systems across sectors,” they added.