UNITED NATIONS — A global hunger crisis has left more than 700 million people not knowing when or if they will eat again, and demand for food is rising relentlessly while humanitarian funding is drying up, the head of the United Nations food agency said Thursday.
World Food Program Executive Director Cindy McCain told the U.N. Security Council that because of the lack of funding, the agency has been forced to cut food rations for millions of people, and “more cuts are on the way.”
“We are now living with a series of concurrent and long-term crises that will continue to fuel global humanitarian needs,” she said. “This is the humanitarian community’s new reality — our new normal — and we will be dealing with the fallout for years to come.”
The WFP chief, the widow of the late U.S. senator John McCain, said the agency estimates that nearly 47 million people in over 50 countries are just one step from famine — and a staggering 45 million children under the age of five are now estimated to suffer from acute malnutrition.
According to WFP estimates from 79 countries where the Rome-based agency operates, up to 783 million people — one in 10 of the world’s population — still go to bed hungry every night. More than 345 million people are facing high levels of food insecurity this year, an increase of almost 200 million people from early 2021 before the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said.
At the root of the soaring numbers, WFP said, is “a deadly combination of conflict, economic shocks, climate extremes and soaring fertilizer prices.”
The economic fallout from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have pushed food prices out of the reach of millions of people across the world at the same time that high fertilizer prices have caused falling production of maize, rice, soybeans and wheat, the agency said.
“Our collective challenge is to ramp up the ambitious, multi-sectoral partnerships that will enable us to tackle hunger and poverty effectively, and reduce humanitarian needs over the long-term,” McCain urged business leaders at the council meeting focusing on humanitarian public-private partnerships. The aim is not just financing, but also finding innovative solutions to help the world’s neediest.
Michael Miebach, CEO of Mastercard, told the council that “humanitarian relief has long been the domain of government” and development institutions, and the private sector was seen as a source of financial donations for supplies.
“Money is still important, but companies can offer so much more,” he said. “The private sector stands ready to tackle the challenges at hand in partnership with the public sector.”
Miebach stressed that “business cannot succeed in a failing world” and humanitarian crises impact fellow citizens of the world. A business can use its expertise, he said, to strengthen infrastructure, “innovate new approaches and deliver solutions at scale” to improve humanitarian operations.
Jared Cohen, president of global affairs at Goldman Sachs, told the council that the revenue of many multinational companies rivals the GDP of some of the Group of 20 countries with the largest economies. And he said five American companies and many of their global counterparts have over 500,000 workers — more than the population of up to 20 U.N. member nations.
“Today’s global firms have responsibilities to our shareholders, clients, staff, communities, and the rules-based international order that makes it possible for us to do business,” he said.
Cohen said businesses can fulfill those responsibilities during crises first by not scrambling “to reinvent the wheel every time,” but by drawing on institutional memory and partnering with other firms and the public sector.
He said businesses also need “to act with speed and innovate in real time,” use local connections, and bring their expertise to the humanitarian response.
Lana Nusseibeh, the United Arab Emirates ambassador, said the U.N. appealed for over $54 billion this year, “and until now, 80% of those funds remain unfulfilled,” which shows that “we are facing a system in crisis.”
She said public-private partnerships that were once useful additions are now crucial to humanitarian work.
Over the past decade, Nusseibeh said, the UAE has been developing “a digital platform to support a government’s ability to better harness international support in the wake of natural disasters.” The UAE has also established a major humanitarian logistics hub and is working with U.N. agencies and private companies on new technologies to reach those in need, she said.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the funding gap has left the world’s most vulnerable people “in a moment of great peril.”
She said companies have stepped up, including in Haiti and Ukraine and to help refugees in the United States, but for too long, “we have turned to the private sector exclusively for financing.”
Businesses have shown “enormous generosity, but in 2023 we know they have so much more to offer. Their capacities, their know-how, and innovations are tremendously needed,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “The public sector must harness the expertise of the private sector and translate it into action.”