Alexis Huguet / AFP


Record levels of food insecurity

As we celebrate World Food Day, parts of Ethiopia and South Sudan are experiencing famine-like conditions. Over 40 million people are estimated to be food insecure in the East Africa and Great Lakes region right now.

As we celebrate World Food Day on 16 October, nearly one in three people on the planet did not have access to adequate food, according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Food insecurity has risen since 2014, and increased dramatically in 2020 in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Africa is disproportionally affected, with 21% of its population facing hunger – more than double the rates observed in Asia and Latin America. Over 40 million people currently face crisis levels of food insecurity or worse (IPC 3 and above – see table) in the East Africa and Great Lakes (EAGL) region.

While food security deteriorated significantly in 2020, the trend cannot be attributed to Covid-19 alone.

“The current crisis is more than the lack of food production, but involves conflict, large-scale displacement, lack of access to services and the loss of livelihoods that all contribute to hunger,” says Heather Amstutz Ferrao, DRC’s Regional Director for the EAGL region.

All countries in the region are affected by some combination of these pre-existing drivers impacting food systems, as well as extreme weather patterns, environmental degradation, and economic decline. Economic shocks and inflation, combined with high import and fuel costs, sustain high food prices and reduce purchasing power.

Several countries in the region face famine-like conditions

In Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, over 400,000 people were estimated to be experiencing famine-like conditions (IPC5) in September 2021. This is the highest number of people in IPC5 since the infamous 2011 famine in Somalia and has the potential to deteriorate further, as an additional 3,996,000 people in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions are currently experiencing crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC 3 and IPC4).

Internally displaced people (IDPs) have received limited to no food distribution since the beginning of the crisis because of access and logistical constraints. These constraints have also stopped mitigation efforts against a resurgence of the hugely destructive 2020-21 desert locust infestation.

The current crisis is more than the lack of food production, but involves conflict, large-scale displacement, lack of access to services and the loss of livelihoods that all contribute to hunger

Heather Amstutz Ferrao, DRC’s Regional Director for the EAGL region

The situation in South Sudan is equally concerning, with over 60% of the population estimated to be food insecure (IPC3 and above). This includes 108,000 people in famine-like condition in parts of Pibor Administrative Area, Jonglei, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Warrap states.

And in DR Congo alone, 19.6 million people are enduring crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC 3 and IPC4), representing roughly 50% of all food-insecure people in the EAGL region. While the country has fertile land, non-state armed groups in the eastern provinces of Ituri and North Kivu often prevent farmers from accessing their fields, with serious consequences for food security.

The situation in these three countries highlights the mutually reinforcing link between conflict, hunger, and displacement. Displaced groups throughout the region are among the most impacted by food insecurity, as their status often limits access to farmland and livelihoods. Furthermore, a lack of funding means the food rations that they depend on have been reduced.

Year of starvation

What people in Pibor, South Sudan, calls 2021

The ripple effects of food insecurity

Beyond the obvious consequences on health and nutrition, conflict and displacement surrounding food insecurity can destabilise affected countries and spill over national borders. It is also a serious protection concern, as affected populations may resort to negative coping mechanisms for survival.

People in Pibor, South Sudan, call 2021 the “year of starvation” and often have to make heart-breaking choices when deciding who to feed within their families. DRC’s Mobile Response Teams observed that hunger is one of the main drivers of intimate partner violence, as well as early and forced marriage in Jonglei.

In DR Congo, Internally displaced people often rely on impoverished host communities for food and other basic needs, which reduces their resilience and can also contribute to longer-term tensions.

DRC’s response

DRC is committed to addressing the major drivers of food insecurity and attendant protection concerns. Accordingly, DRC is strengthening its field presence, peacebuilding initiatives, and development of community-based resilience and protection mechanisms.

Because the EAGL region’s current food insecurity is partly due to inadequate farming practices, lack of resilience to climatic shocks, and the length of food supply chains, DRC also promotes the localisation of food production, using bio-intensive, agro-ecological, agroforestry and permaculture-based resilience design approaches, which reduce overreliance on imports and mitigate the impacts of increasing food prices.

What is the IPC classification?

The IPC classification is a common global system for classifying the severity and magnitude of food insecurity and malnutrition. In its analysis of Acute Food Insecurity, the IPC uses a five-scale severity classification. People meeting the criteria for IPC 3 and above are considered food insecure.:

  1. Minimal/None
  2. Stressed
  3. Crisis
  4. Emergency
  5. Catastrophe/Famine
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