Six-fold increase in people suffering famine-like conditions since pandemic began

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Ahmed Al-Fadeel

Credit: Ahmed Al-Fadeel

More than half a million people are living in famine-like conditions and are on the brink of starvation, according to a new Oxfam report published today. Conflict combined with the economic impact of the pandemic and a worsening climate crisis has led to a six-fold increase in catastrophic levels of hunger since the beginning of 2020.

The report, The Hunger Virus Multiplies, estimates that as many as 11 people are dying of hunger and malnutrition each minute, 36 per cent more than the seven people dying around the world every minute as a result of Covid-19.

Overall, 155 million people around the world are facing crisis levels of hunger and malnutrition – a rise of 20 million compared to last year - with two out of every three people hungry primarily because of conflict. Some of the world’s worst hunger ‘hotspots’, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen continue to suffer from conflict, and have witnessed a surge in extreme levels of hunger since last year.

At the same time, the economic fall-out of Covid-19 has deepened poverty and inequality and more than 400 weather-related disasters have increased hunger in communities many of which are already battered by conflict and coronavirus. Severely disrupted food production has led to a 40 per cent surge in global food prices, the highest rise in over a decade.

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam GB Chief Executive said:

“The world cannot stand by while global hunger levels soar and half a million people face starvation due to the confluence of unrelenting conflict, Covid-19’s economic fall-out and a worsening climate crisis.

“Governments urgently need to do more to prevent conflict in the first place and to support those caught up in the crossfire, by providing funding and stepping in to ensure aid agencies can get vital humanitarian assistance where it is needed.

“It is unacceptable that starvation is often used as a weapon of war, with millions of people forced to flee their homes, their crops and livestock destroyed, and combatants denying them even the lifeline of humanitarian aid. The UN Security Council should hold to account all those who use this barbaric tactic.”

More than 350,000 people in Ethiopia's Tigray region are experiencing famine-like conditions according to recent analysis - the largest number recorded since Somalia in 2011, when a quarter of a million Somalis died. The UN said last week that the numbers affected have increased and the humanitarian situation has worsened dramatically in recent weeks.

Mulu Gebre, 26, who was forced to flee her home in Tigray when nine months pregnant, told Oxfam: “I came to Mekele because I heard that food and milk were offered for infants. When I arrived here, I couldn’t find food even for myself. I need food especially for my child, who is only four months old and was born underweight.”

Other areas experiencing extreme hunger highlighted in the report include:

  • Sahel: Countries most torn by conflict, such as Burkina Faso, saw more than a 200 per cent rise in hunger between 2019 and 2020 - from 687,000 to 2.1 million people. Increasing violence forced 5.3 million people to flee and fuelled food inflation to a five-year high. The climate crisis worsened the situation: floods have increased by 180 per cent since 2015, devastating crops and hitting the incomes of 1.7 million people.
  • South Sudan: Ten years since its independence, over 100,000 people are now facing famine-like conditions. Continued violence and flooding disrupted agriculture in the past year and forced 4.2 million people to flee their homes. Less than a fifth of the £1.2 billion UN Humanitarian appeal for South Sudan has so far been funded.
  • Yemen: Blockades, conflict and a fuel crisis have caused staple food prices to more than double since 2016. Humanitarian aid was slashed by half, curtailing aid agencies’ response and cutting food assistance for five million people. The number of people experiencing famine-like conditions is expected to almost triple to 47,000 by July 2021.

Hunger has also intensified in middle income countries such as Brazil, India and South Africa, which have experienced some of the highest numbers of Covid-19 infections. In Brazil, extreme poverty nearly tripled and almost 20 million people were pushed into hunger during the pandemic.

To prevent more people being pushed into extreme poverty and hunger, Oxfam is calling on governments to build fairer and more sustainable food systems, to support social protection measures to help the most vulnerable and to waiver Covid-19 vaccine patents to ensure developing countries can vaccinate their people.


For more information and interviews, please contact Lisa Rutherford on 07917 791 836 /

Stories, pictures, and videos highlighting the impact of conflict, Covid-19 and climate on hunger across the globe are available here

Notes to editor

  • The Hunger Virus Multiplies can be downloaded here
  • The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) is a scale measuring severity of food insecurity into five categories IPC Phase 1 to IPC Phase 5, with the most catastrophic level being IPC Phase 5
  • Oxfam calculated this percentage increase by dividing the people in IPC 5 as of mid-June 2021 (IPC data, including current projections): 521,814, by the people in IPC 5 at end of 2019 (GRFC 2020): 84,500 - which amounts to a 517 per cent increase, or just over 6 times more
  • Oxfam applied the IPC crude death rate cut offs for Phase 3 to the Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) 2021 global figure of 155 million people in IPC3+ to calculate the number of people who could die from hunger every minute. This will equal 7,750-15,345 per day (5-11 per minute). This is a conservative estimate, since Oxfam applied only the crude death rate for IPC Phase 3, which is lower than the expected crude death rates for people in IPC Phase 4 and 5.
  • The global observed daily mortality rate for Covid-19 reached nearly 9,967 deaths per day for the week ending 14 June 2021, which is equivalent to seven deaths per minute according to data from Johns Hopkins University and Oxford University “Our World in Data” database
  • The 2021 Global Report on Food Crises found that conflict is the primary factor pushing nearly 100 million people in 23 conflict-torn countries into crisis or worse levels of food insecurity
  • The IPC analysis of food insecurity in Ethiopia published in June 2021 can be found here
  • Since the pandemic began, Oxfam has reached nearly 15 million of the world’s most vulnerable people with food, cash assistance and clean water. We work together with more than 694 partners across 68 countries.

Press contact

For comments, interviews, or information please contact Lisa Rutherford (Senior Press Officer):