A report by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program warns many of the more than 174 million people suffering from acute hunger across the world are likely to die without urgent international assistance.
Those most affected by acute hunger are people living in 20 so-called hot spots. Topping the list of areas where people face catastrophic levels of acute hunger are Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria.
The director of the FAO office in Geneva, Dominique Burgeon, says multiple drivers are behind the soaring rates of acute hunger.
"These multiple drivers are, first, conflict or other forms of armed violence," he said. "As a result of the economic impact of COVID-19 pandemic, we also wish to flag that the economies of numerous countries in 2021 will continue to be highly vulnerable to economic shocks."
While the majority of affected countries are in Africa, the report warns acute hunger is expected to rise steeply in most regions in the world. Among those most at risk are Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and Haiti.
The report finds more than 34 million people already are facing emergency levels of food insecurity, with many on the brink of famine. It notes families in pockets of South Sudan and Yemen already are in danger of starvation and death.
Director of the World Food Program's office in Geneva, Annalisa Conte, says people facing famine-like conditions have depleted their assets, lost their livelihoods and do not have enough to eat, and most of their children already are acutely malnourished.
"Excess death due to hunger is taking place as we speak," she said. "You need to understand that beyond this point, there is starvation and widespread mortality. The window to avert a catastrophic situation, I would say, of biblical proportion is closing fast."
The U.N. food agencies are calling on international donors to provide $5 billion in emergency food assistance to prevent 34 million people at risk of famine from starving to death.