Blog Post

Conflict, weather drive acute hunger

An estimated 73 million people in Africa faced acute levels of hunger and food insecurity in 2019, according to the 2020 Global Report on Food Crises, released this week. The continent accounted for 54 percent of the global total of severely food-insecure people. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world, developing countries in the region will likely see even further disruptions to food access. These disruptions will compound existing food crises and potentially create new ones.

The Global Report on Food Crises is prepared by 16 leading global and regional organizations belonging to the Global Network Against Food Crises , and released annually by the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) , led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and IFPRI. The report provides the latest estimates of severe hunger worldwide and at the country level, as well as analysis of the key drivers behind current hunger trends, to help humanitarian aid organizations and development organizations better coordinate to address the root causes of food crises. The data come mainly from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) and the Cadre Harmonisé (CH) . The 2020 report monitors food insecurity in 55 countries vulnerable to food crises and provides in-depth analysis of causes of severe food insecurity for 27 countries.

Conflict, extreme weather events, and economic shocks all played a role in the acute food insecurity seen in Africa in 2019. Populations in many countries faced two or even three of these factors concurrently, exacerbating the challenges of providing humanitarian aid and alleviating hunger.

East Africa

In East Africa, more than 27 million people in six countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda) faced IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or higher levels of food insecurity. This number accounts for 20 percent of the global total of acutely food-insecure people; moreover, it represents an increase of 600,000 people from 2018. An additional 35 million people in these six countries experienced IPC Level 2 (Stressed) levels of food insecurity in 2019, placing them at risk of falling into worsening food insecurity if faced with additional natural or man-made shocks.

Drought in the first half of the agricultural and pastoralist season in East Africa hampered production and resulted in below-average harvests, particularly in the Horn of Africa. The region then experienced widespread heavy flooding in October, further disrupting populations’ livelihoods and access to food. In all, severe weather events resulted in acute food insecurity for an estimated 13.2 million people in East Africa. Conflict was the key driver for another 8.5 million, especially in South Sudan and among refugee populations in Uganda, while economic shocks impacted the food security of an estimated 5.9 million people, mainly in Sudan.

Southern Africa

In Southern Africa, more than 30 million people across 11 countries (Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) experienced IPC Phase 3 or above food insecurity in 2019. This number represents a significant jump of 7 million from the 2018 GRFC, due in part to the addition in 2019 of data for three countries not covered in 2018 (Angola, Namibia, and Tanzania) and in part to worsening conditions in other parts of the region. An additional 44.4 million people in Southern Africa faced IPC Phase 2 food insecurity.

Conflict was the primary driver of acute food insecurity and hunger in Southern Africa in 2019, impacting an estimated 15.6 million people, mainly in DRC. The fighting, which has been ongoing in DRC for decades, also hampered appropriate responses to an outbreak of Ebola; the health crisis further reduced agricultural production and households’ access to income and food. DRC’s population of displaced people, both internally displaced and refugees, faced the highest levels of food insecurity in 2019 and significantly drove up the region’s need for humanitarian aid.

Southern Africa also experienced several extreme weather events in 2019 that drove acute food insecurity for an estimated 11.2 million people. Severe drought, followed by two major cyclones, led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of crops and severely reduced livestock production conditions. Economic shocks reduced food security for 3.6 million people, mostly in Zimbabwe, which was hit with both severely below-average rainfall and economic disruptions like hyperinflation and acute foreign exchange shortages in 2019. Extreme poverty in the country rose from 29 percent in 2018 to 34 percent in 2019.

West Africa

In West Africa and the Sahel, an estimated 12.3 million people across 15 countries (Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone) experienced IPC Phase 3 or above food insecurity in 2019. Northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Burkina Faso were the hardest hit. An additional 48 million people faced IPC Phase 2 food insecurity, placing them at risk of slipping into more acute need in the face of further shocks.

Conflict was by far the strongest driver of acute food insecurity in West Africa and the Sahel, impacting 10.3 million people, mainly in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and northern Nigeria. Ongoing conflict has displaced massive populations, with 4.4 million people internally displaced and 1.2 million people in refugee status. Furthermore, the fighting has forced basic social services to close, disrupted market functioning and trade, and reduced access to fields and pastoral grazing routes – all of which translated into significant reduction in food production, availability, and access.

Extreme weather events resulted in acute food insecurity for 1.6 million people in West Africa and the Sahel. The region saw both heavy flooding and severe rainfall deficits throughout 2019, reducing agricultural and livestock production and causing significant declines in livelihoods and food supplies. Economic shocks impacted fewer people in this region (0.4 million) but still contributed to acute food insecurity in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Gambia.

COVID-19 and Prospects for 2020

While the original data and analysis presented in the report did not take into account the current COVID-19 pandemic, the authors provided post-publication analysis of the implications of the global health crisis on food security in 2020 and beyond. As global and national economies continue to decline in the face of the pandemic, households’ employment opportunities and subsequently incomes will likely be reduced, particularly in developing regions like Africa. Disruptions to food value chains will likely result in higher food prices and reduced availability of and access to food, particularly for populations already at risk of food insecurity. Humanitarian needs across the globe are expected to rise, at the same time that reduced national budgets will make these needs harder to meet.

In the light of both new and continuing global challenges to food security, the report calls for urgent, coordinated action to step up public health responses and efforts to protect and strengthen global, regional, and local food value chains. This includes strengthening of social safety nets to protect vulnerable populations from both natural and man-made shocks, as well as encouraging cooperation among governments to prevent trade restrictions that would further reduce economic activity. In addition, continued near-real-time monitoring and data collection efforts are crucial to accurately understand the impact of COVID-19 on food security, hunger, malnutrition and poverty.


Read the full report

Read the brief

Read a news release from the report authors

Read the report’s key takeaways for battling COVID-19

Watch a video on the report from IFPRI Director General Jo Swinnen: