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Global food insecurity driven by war, climate, and lack of resources: IRC CEO

This week, President Joe Biden laid out an ambitious goal at the White House’s first food conference in 50 years, committing $8 billion to address food insecurity with the aim to end hunger in the U.S. by 2030.

Globally, the path to tackling the growing issue remains much direr, thanks to ongoing conflict and the ever-growing climate crisis.

According to a new study from the United Nations World Food Program, the number of hunger hotspots has increased 10-fold in just five years. A record 970,000 people face catastrophic levels of hunger in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen.

A man reacts at a fruit stall at the street market in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on August 25, 2022. (Photo by Miguel SCHINCARIOL/AFP)
A man reacts at a fruit stall at the street market in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on August 25, 2022. (Photo by Miguel SCHINCARIOL/AFP)

Food insecurity means an individual is not having a daily meal. Currently, 345 million people around the world are already approaching starvation, and those numbers will likely only worsen.

“For 345 million people, that's because their food is being washed away by climate crises, like in Pakistan," International Rescue Coalition (IRC) CEO David Milibrand told Yahoo Finance Live (video above). "Access to food is being blocked because of conflicts, like in places like Yemen. And also, because they can't afford to buy food, which is the situation in Afghanistan.”

An unfolding food crisis

Miiband’s warning comes as the world faces its largest food crisis in modern history, putting millions of people at risk.

The unfolding humanitarian disaster has intensified this year, in part because of the fighting between Russia and Ukraine. The countries collectively account for 30% of globally traded wheat, 20% of maize, and 70% of sunflower supplies, while Russia remains a critical supplier of fertilizer.

A shortage of exports from the two nations has pushed prices higher at a time when global energy prices have added to the cost pressures with sanctions limiting Russian oil and natural gas exports.

Rice farmers in Indonesia are facing difficulties due to the continued increase in fertilizer prices following the Russia-Ukraine war. (Photo by Surya Fachrizal Aprianus/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Rice farmers in Indonesia are facing difficulties due to the continued increase in fertilizer prices following the Russia-Ukraine war. (Photo by Surya Fachrizal Aprianus/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Miliband argued that the outsized attention on Russia and Ukraine has masked a crisis that has been unraveling for years.

“We shouldn't be mistaken for thinking that it's actually caused [the food crisis],” Miliband said. “The cause is more fundamental. And it's to do with the conflict, the climate crisis, and the maldistribution of resources.”

Livelihoods 'literally being washed away'

The impacts of climate change have particularly weighed heavily on the Global South, including the world’s poorest nations.

Record monsoon rains killed more than 1,500 people in Pakistan last month, and wiped out nearly 15% of Pakistan’s rice crop and 40% of its cotton crop, destroying livelihoods along with them. In Somalia, a country faced with its worst drought in 40 years, more than a million people have been displaced.

With the prospect of a fifth straight year of drought, international organizations have warned about a famine breaking out if livestock and crops continue to die. The last famine that plagued the country in 2011 killed roughly a quarter million people.

“What we see around the world is a structural crisis because so much of the agriculture is not climate resilient,” Milliband said. “The livelihoods that people depend on are literally being washed away. Their seeds are not able to be resistant to the kind of shift in temperatures that we're seeing.”

Displaced women carry water pots as children take bath amid floodwater, while they take refuge in a camp, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sehwan, Pakistan, September 16, 2022. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
Displaced women carry water pots as children take bath amid floodwater, while they take refuge in a camp, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Sehwan, Pakistan, September 16, 2022. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

'No doubt' the richest countries caused the climate crisis

Soaring inflation driven largely by high energy costs and a surging dollar have only made the situation worse, putting the most indebted countries further in a financial hole and stripping funds away from humanitarian aid.

In the face of those challenges, the calls for the world’s richest nations to increase their financial contributions have grown louder. Developing countries argue that the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, including the U.S. and China, are responsible for the impacts of climate change that have disproportionately affected the poorest countries.

At UN Climate Week in New York in September, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on developed nations to consider a windfall tax on oil and gas companies to provide the cash needed for climate-related disasters and mitigation efforts, saying “all polluters must pay.”

“The truth is that it is rich countries that have created the climate crisis," Miliband said. "There's no doubt about that. In terms of what we need to do, I'm afraid we have to do both. We have to mitigate future climate change by decarbonizing, changing, taking the carbon out of energy systems in the rich world …"

Milibrand also highlighted the importance of mitigating "future danger by helping the poorest countries develop in a way that doesn't repeat our mistakes."

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AkikoFujita

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