Blog Post

Acute Food Insecurity Spreads Across Africa: 2021 Global Report on Food Crises

The number of people around the world facing severe food insecurity skyrocketed by 20 million in 2020, according to the 2021 Global Report on Food Crises, released earlier this month. Acute food insecurity now affects at least 155 million people across 55 countries/territories, with some regions facing famine-level hunger.

Of the 10 worse food crises identified by the report, six were in Africa south of the Sahara (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sudan, northern Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe). In Central African Republic, 51 percent of the population is estimated to be in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis)-level food insecurity or higher; that number rises to 55 percent in South Sudan.

As in previous years, conflict, economic shocks, and extreme weather events formed the main drivers of food crises across the region. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing food security challenges in many countries. The ongoing health crisis has further reduced livelihoods, disrupted local and regional food markets, and worsened health outcomes. These multiple shocks combined in 2020 to create what the report’s authors deemed the perfect storm for rising hunger and malnutrition.

In Central and Southern Africa, 11 of the 13 countries covered by the report are classified as facing major food crises. Climate-related shocks and conflict continue to be the main driver of crises in this region, but the COVID-19 pandemic created additional economic shocks that have worsened hunger levels. Across the region, 40.2 million people faced Crisis-level or higher food insecurity in 2020. More than half of these people were in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where at least 30 percent of the population were acutely food-insecure. Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Central African Republic, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Madagascar also saw high prevalence of acute food insecurity. In addition, an estimated 2.5 million children under five in the region suffered from wasting (low weight-for-age) and more than 18.5 million children under five suffered from stunting (low height-for-age) in 2020.

The report forecasts the situation to deteriorate further in 2021, with 43 million people facing Crisis-level food insecurity or worse as a result of ongoing conflict, population displacement, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In East Africa, seven of the eight countries covered by the report faced major food crises in 2020. Thirty-three million people in the region experienced Crisis-level food insecurity, almost 75 percent of whom were in just three countries: the Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. Poor weather conditions, ongoing conflict, and the economic impacts of COVID-19 containment measures drove food crises in the region. Several countries in the region had the highest rainfall in 40 years, leading to severe flooding and landslides. In addition, East Africa experienced the worst desert locust invasion in almost three decades, leading to significant crop and pasture losses in some parts of the region.

An estimated 3.5 million children under five in the eight surveyed countries suffered from wasting in 2020 and an estimated 14.1 million were stunted. The report expects food crises to continue in the region in 2021, with between 27.4 and 28.2 million people facing Crisis-level food insecurity or worse as a result of poor weather conditions, economic shocks, and conflict and displacement.

In West Africa and the Sahel, of the 17 countries covered by the report, seven are classified as facing major food crises. Increased conflict and massive population displacement drove 24.5 million people into acute food insecurity – almost twice as many as in 2019. Market disruptions, rising food prices, and falling incomes stemming from COVID-19 containment measures also contributed to increasing hunger in the region, as did severe flooding in some areas. Of those 24.5 million people, almost 40 percent were located in northern Nigeria In addition, in Burkina Faso, almost 12,000 people faced IPC Phase 5 (Catastrophe)-level food insecurity.

An estimated 5.4 million children under five suffered from wasting in the Sahel alone in 2020, while nearly 17 million children under five across West Africa as a whole suffered from stunting. The report expects the region’s food security situation to remain alarming in 2021, with more than 29 million people in Crisis-level food insecurity or worse. Nigeria in particular is expected to see a serious deterioration in food security; the report estimates that as many as 13 million people could fall into acute food insecurity during the lean season.

The stark findings in the 2021 GRFC highlight the need for urgent, coordinated efforts to address all of the drivers of food insecurity. This includes strengthening and transforming global, regional, and local food systems to be more inclusive and sustainable, and enhancing populations’ resilience to future shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic. Only by recognizing how conflict, extreme weather, and economic shocks reinforce one another and tackling these factors in tandem can we get back on track to achieving the SDG goal of zero hunger.

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 2021 report monitors food insecurity in 55 countries/territories vulnerable to food crises and provides in-depth analysis of causes of severe food insecurity for 34 countries.