As world leaders prepare to discuss the fiscal response to COVID-19 at next weekend’s G20 Summit in Saudi Arabia, new analysis by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), finds that the number of people facing acute hunger in fragile contexts globally has risen by 60% to 91 million due to the deep recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Today’s new estimate comes just months after the IRC’s June calculations that 54 million people in developing countries could be pushed into hunger as a result of the global economic shock forecasted by the International Monetary Fund. Based on the IMF’s pre- and post-COVID-Covid-19 growth forecasts and previous trends, October’s downgraded GDP forecast has painted a picture of global hunger that was even worse than previously imagined.

This shock to the global economy will be acutely felt by people living in conflict and crisis-affected countries, where those already on the brink will be pushed into hunger and look toward extreme measures of survival. The IRC is particularly concerned about the increase in numbers of children in fragile and conflict-affected states, such as Yemen, South Sudan, the DRC and northeast Nigeria, who are suffering from acute malnutrition, from 47 million to 54 million.

Already, families whose livelihoods have been decimated, and who cannot access food or basic necessities, are being forced to send their children to work instead of school. Women and girls are also experiencing these effects differently. A recent IRC safety audit found that economic hardship is heightening women and girls’ exposure to violence and exploitation, both within and outside the home.

As the G20 meets in Saudi Arabia, no place exemplified this crisis more than Yemen, where more than 5 years of conflict and humanitarian crisis have destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure, derailed its already-fragile economy, and upended its agricultural capacity. Pre-pandemic, the forecast for GDP growth in Yemen in 2020 was low at 2.0%; the most recent downgraded, post COVID-19 forecast for Yemen is -5.0% - a full 7 percentage points lower. Today, 80 percent of Yemen‘s population - 24 million people - rely on humanitarian assistance and 20 million are food insecure, with conditions mirroring or are worse than those of late 2018 when pockets of famine were identified in 25 districts.

David Miliband, President & CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said:

“COVID-19 is already forcing families to make impossible choices to ensure their survival. Countries, such as Yemen or Afghanistan, simply do not have the financial resource, systems or infrastructure to withstand the threat of the economic crisis caused by the virus. In Yemen alone, 80% of its population - 24 million people - rely on humanitarian assistance.

“This year’s G20 Summit puts the UK in a unique position to stem the tide of global hunger. As leader of the COVID-19 finance track, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should underscore the high risks of food insecurity in fragile countries, and prioritise the funding of global humanitarian response that includes full funding for nutrition services, and delivering immediate cash directly to those most in need. 

“Meanwhile, recognition of the appalling impact that barriers to humanitarian assistance and international law violations have on populations like Yemen must be shown through a full financial commitment to the UN’s 2020 and 2021 appeals.

"The G20 also offers the UK a moment in which to reassert its leadership on nutrition. Even before the pandemic, merely 20% of the 50 million children living with acute malnutrition got the treatment they needed. To date the UK government has been the world’s greatest asset in the fight against malnutrition. That leadership is needed now more than ever.”