Humanitarian needs are rising around the world. The number of people experiencing acute hunger rose from 135 million to 155 million across 55 countries in 2020. Without urgent action, an estimated 270 million will be at risk of hunger in 2021.
The devastating combination of conflict, economic turmoil caused by Covid-19 and climate change is setting back the clock on the global fight against hunger. Five years of progress towards ending hunger will be at risk without urgent action from G7 leaders. In a new report, the IRC has outlined priority actions that G7 leaders and the wider international community must take to prevent famine and build countries’ resilience against future food security crises.
As hosts of this year’s G7 Leaders’ Summit, the UK government is in a unique position to rally world leaders against rising hunger.
The event is the first big test for ‘Global Britain’. Yet in 2021 the UK government will oversee a drastic reduction in aid spending. Huge cuts from 0.7 % of Gross National Income to 0.5 %.
At this year’s G7 summit, the UK must put words into action. It must push for more funding to end the hunger crisis and urgently prioritise the safe delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid. To prevent the hunger crisis from spiralling, the UK must invest in programmes that are resilient to future economic and climate shocks and build women’s leadership to withstand future crises.
Here are five ways the UK government can help end famine and hunger.
1. Reverse cuts to the UK aid budget to prevent famine
The UK is set to spend 40% less on humanitarian aid than before the pandemic. This is at a time when the UN predicts that the humanitarian need in 2021 is almost 40% higher than in 2020.
The aid cuts are undermining the UK’s leadership of the G7. Dominic Raab talks about Global Britain as “a force for good in the world”. Yet, aid has been slashed to countries on the brink of famine like Yemen. If Boris Johnson hopes to persuade other countries to increase funding for climate finance or for tackling famine and hunger, the UK must lead by example and return to its longstanding commitment to spend 0.7% of its national income on aid.
2. Treat and prevent malnutrition in young children
COVID-19 is having a devastating economic impact on the poorest countries. The cost of food and essentials is fast becoming unaffordable. Prices have skyrocketed and livelihoods ruined. Acute malnutrition is on the rise. COVID-19 could cause an estimated 6.7 million children under the age of five to become acutely malnourished. Adding to the nearly 47 million children already suffering from acute malnutrition before the pandemic.
We must act now before it’s too late. Actions such as support for breastfeeding and widespread screening and diagnosis of malnutrition must be scaled up across high-burden countries. Effective treatment for acute malnutrition must be expanded to prevent unnecessary deaths. Access to quality foods that provide dietary and nutrient density and diversity must be increased. As well as tackling malnutrition, these same measures will help prevent famine and hunger. Including near-famine conditions in countries like Yemen and South Sudan.
3. Remove barriers to humanitarian access and hold those who use hunger as a weapon of war to account
Conflict remains by far the largest driver of hunger. Hunger is being used as a deliberate weapon of war. And the IRC, and other NGOs, are finding they are unable to provide aid to people who need it, due to serious constraints to access - including direct attacks on aid workers. This is a violation of international humanitarian law.
“Conflict drives hunger and famine; and hunger and famine drive conflict.” - The UN Secretary General
We are calling on the UK government and G7 leaders to ensure international humanitarian and human rights law is enforced. They must seek to hold those responsible to account, as well as invest in conflict prevention.
4. Tackling Climate Change is key to ending hunger
The climate crisis continues to drive food insecurity and displacement. Higher temperatures, irregular rainfall and desertification have an impact on agriculture and food supply. There has also been an increase of flooding, droughts, megafires and desert locust swarms which destroy agriculture and rural livelihoods. As a result, people are displaced from their homes and vast regions face famine.
It can also mean that the risk of conflicts over resources increase. Out of the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change, 60% are affected by armed conflict.
As global temperatures rise and weather patterns become more extreme, people in the poorest countries will suffer.
The UK government must use its G7 leadership to ensure all G7 members’ commit to tackling climate change. They must do more, faster to reach their climate goals and reduce carbon emissions, and contribute towards restoring nature.
The UK should use its presidency to ensure their portfolio is fully aligned with the Paris Agreement goals.
5. Women and girls are key to building back better: The G7 must take a feminist approach to food security and climate resilience
Women and girls are deeply impacted by food insecurity and hunger. They are food producers and providers and eat least, last and least well. This is because of entrenched gender roles and structural inequalities that put women and girls at a disadvantage in crisis situations.
However, we know that women play key roles in local food systems and are often carers and activists. Therefore, they must be empowered to lead local solutions to tackle food insecurity and hunger and build climate resilience.
World leaders at the G7 must take a feminist approach to champion women’s leadership in the fight against food insecurity, climate change and famine.
However, the UK’s priority for gender equality is at odds with the devastating cuts to aid. The cuts threaten to exclude women and girls being hit hardest by the climate crisis, the economic shock of Covid-19 and the shadow pandemic of gender-based violence.