Efforts to end global hunger are “flat-lining”, warns Oxfam, as UN figures show 870 million are still going short of food each day

Posted by Anna Ridout Press Officer

10th Oct 2012

Rising food prices and increased frequency of humanitarian crises may entrench hunger long term

The international aid agency, Oxfam, has warned that efforts to bring an end to global hunger are in danger of "flat-lining" in the longer term, with rising food prices and an increasing number of weather-related crises threatening to entrench hunger across the world. 

Oxfam's warning follows today's reports that food prices are set to rise in the UK due to poor harvests nationally and globally. Yesterday the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that almost 870 million people are currently going hungry, an almost identical figure to that reported by the same organisation for 2007.

Oxfam's Chief Executive, Barbara Stocking, said: "It's a scandal that almost 870 million people are going hungry in a world that produces enough for everyone to eat. The flat-lining in the number of people being lifted out of hunger in the last five years should sound alarm bells around the globe."

Oxfam believes that a variety of factors, including sharply rising global food prices and the increased frequency of weather-related humanitarian crises, may prevent meaningful progress on reducing global hunger in the longer term. To achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving global hunger levels compared to 1990, the number of hungry people around the world will need to fall to 500 million by 2015. 

The agency's analysis suggests that the price of key food staples, including wheat and rice, may double in the next 20 years, threatening disastrous consequences for poor people who spend a large proportion of their income on food. In 2012, according to the FAO, food prices are already at close to record levels, having risen 1.4% in September following an increase of 6% in July.

In the week of its 70th anniversary, Oxfam has also revealed that it is responding to an increasing number of major humanitarian emergencies, prompting it to warn that the greater number of weather-related crises is "not a blip, but a new reality". A food crisis in Somalia and northern Kenya and severe food shortages in the Sahel region of West Africa and Yemen have strained Oxfam's resources in 2012.

The agency is also running large-scale relief efforts in response to a cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone and to help hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict in South Sudan, Mali and Democratic Republic of Congo. 

In total, an estimated 50 million people have been affected by these crises, with Oxfam's relief efforts reaching almost 2m people at a cost of close to £120 million across the six emergencies. 

Oxfam says extreme weather events are the key factor behind the increasing frequency of humanitarian emergencies. With food insecurity a significant factor in all the emergencies it has responded to in the last year, Oxfam says the increasing frequency of such events may hamper progress towards eradicating global hunger.

Jane Cocking, Oxfam's Humanitarian Director, added: "This isn't an unfortunate blip, but a new reality that the humanitarian system must adjust to. Extreme weather events are increasing the frequency of humanitarian emergencies, while conflict continues to drive millions of people from their homes and means of earning a living. Today hundreds of millions of people worldwide are desperately struggling to feed themselves and their families. Parts of the world are never more than one poor harvest away from severe malnutrition." 

This week Oxfam released findings of a new survey of more than 1,800 households in Somalia, a country still recovering from famine in 2011. While the survey finds a return to famine is unlikely, water and food shortages in parts of the country are again at critical levels and likely to deteriorate over the coming months, risking a renewed and prolonged humanitarian crisis well into next year. The agency has called on governments to support disaster-prone countries to help them prepare for disasters, rather than responding when emergencies reach crisis point.

Cocking added: "Prices for food staples are rising sharply this year and are likely to double in the long-term, as competition intensifies for limited resources, threatening disaster to millions of vulnerable people. Without concerted action to tackle global hunger in the most difficult places, we will continue to face major food crises and shocking levels of malnutrition."

Oxfam is also warning an unprecedented rush to buy up land in developing countries in the last decade has made food crises worse with land eight times the size of the UK sold off globally in that period, enough to grow food for a billion people. As part of its Grow campaign, Oxfam has called on the World Bank to put a temporary freeze on any involvement in investments in land, allowing time for the Bank to strengthen its governance procedures in the hope of giving a lead for other investors to follow and preventing land grabs.

For footage or interviews: Tricia O'Rourke +44 (0)7920 596358/ TORourke@oxfam.org.uk or Anna Ridout 44 (0)7766 443506 / aridout@oxfam.org.uk

Notes to editors

  1.  Since 1980, reported weather-related disasters in developing countries have increased by 233 per cent where records are available (because of many reasons) from Oxfam International (2011) 'Time's Bitter Flood: Trends in the number of reported natural disasters' http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/times-bitter-flood-trends-in-the-number-of-reported-natural-disasters-133491
  2. Between the 1970s and 2000s, the drought-affected proportion of the earth doubled according to the US National Center for Atmospheric Research ('Climate Change: drought may threaten much of globe within decades').
  3.  In 2011, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that, even without climate change, the risk from disasters will increase in many countries as more people are exposed to extreme weather conditions ('Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change).
  4. Oxfam marked its 70th anniversary on 5 October 2012.
  5. The FAO Hunger Report can be downloaded at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i2845e/i2845e00.pdf


Blog post written by Anna Ridout

Press Officer

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