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UN: Conflict, climate change driving hundreds of millions into hunger

Palestinian children suffering from malnutrition receive treatment at a health care center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5, 2024.
Palestinian children suffering from malnutrition receive treatment at a health care center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5, 2024.

A new analysis of the state of global hunger finds conflict, climate change, and economic shocks are driving an increasing number of people into acute hunger, jeopardizing gains made over previous years in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development goal of ending hunger by 2030.

Published Wednesday, the 2024 Global Report on Food Crisis finds 281.6 million people, or 21.5% of populations analyzed in 2023, faced high levels of acute insecurity in 59 food-crisis countries and territories.

“When we talk about acute food insecurity, we are talking about hunger so severe that it poses an immediate threat to people’s livelihoods and lives,” said Dominique Burgeon, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, in Geneva.

“This is hunger that threatens to slide into famine and cause widespread death,” he said. “The report also tells us that 60% of children experiencing acute malnutrition live in the 10 countries facing the highest levels of acute food insecurity.”


The report says, “Food crises escalated alarmingly in conflict hotspots” in 2023, notably in Gaza and Sudan. It says at the end of the year, the Gaza Strip became the severest food crisis in its reporting history.

“The situation in Gaza is extremely worrying. We all know that we are getting closer by the day to a famine situation,” said Gian Carlo Cirri, World Food Program director in Geneva.

“Malnutrition among children is spreading. We estimate 30% of children below the age of two are acutely malnourished or wasted [underweight for height] and 70% of the population in the North is facing catastrophic hunger.

“There is reasonable evidence that all three famine thresholds — food insecurity, malnutrition, and mortality — will be passed in the next six weeks,” he said, noting that people in Gaza cannot meet their most basic food needs, having exhausted all coping strategies and largely reduced to selling belongings to buy food.

“They are most of the time destitute and clearly some of them are dying of hunger,” he said, adding that “when we declare a famine, it is too late. We have already lost a huge number of people.”

Courtney Blake, senior humanitarian adviser for the U.S. Mission in Geneva, told journalists that senior government officials in Washington have clearly stated that more needs to be done to mitigate this situation.

“Israel needs to provide unimpeded access to both northern and southern Gaza in order to reverse the fast-paced deterioration of the food situation and prevent the loss of life due to starvation, acute malnutrition and disease outbreaks,” she said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied people are starving in Gaza and has blamed Hamas for the lack of humanitarian aid entering the occupied territory.


The FAO’s Burgeon said Sudan is facing a hunger crisis and requires immediate action to stop the rapid deterioration of the food security situation in the country.

“We have about 18 million people who are in acute food insecurity ... and we have about 5 million people who are in IPC 4 [Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, which means] one step away from famine, and nine out of 10 of these people ... are in the current hotspots of Darfur, Kordofan, Al Jazirah, and Khartoum.

“What is very concerning for us is that the bulk of those people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods,” said Burgeon. “We are a couple of weeks away from the planting season; it is absolutely critical that wherever it will be possible to access people, we provide them with agriculture input on time so they can plant their fields.”

Children worldwide

Stefano Fedele, global nutrition cluster coordinator at UNICEF Geneva, notes 36.4 million children under age 5 in 32 countries in crisis are acutely malnourished and 9.8 million are severely acutely malnourished and in urgent need of treatment.

“These children are at increased risk of dying,” he said. “And even if they recover from malnutrition, they are likely to not meet their full cognitive or developmental potential, which obviously has a critical impact on the individual level, but also in terms of potential development of a country.”