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Number of children in crisis levels of hunger due to extreme weather events doubles in past five years

Guest content
03 June 2024

The number of children facing crisis levels of hunger in the countries where extreme weather events are most impacting food supplies has more than doubled in the past five years including a 20% rise in 2023, according to new analysis by Save the Children[1].  

The analysis was released as governments meet for a landmark “expert dialogue” on the disproportionate impacts of climate change on children at UN talks taking place in Bonn, Germany - the precursor to the COP29 summit later this year.  

Save the Children’s analysis showed that more than 33 million children and 39 million adults live in both the “crisis” phase 3 of hunger as determined by the IPC [2] and in the 18 countries where extreme weather events such as droughts, cyclones, and floods were the main drivers of food insecurity [3].  

This means that in countries where extreme weather events were the main cause of hunger the number of people facing IPC Phase 3 and above has more than doubled from 29 million in 2018 – including 13 million children - to 72 million in 2023. [4] 

Rukia [5], a mother of 10, grows crops and raises livestock to feed her family in a rural area of Somali region in Ethiopia, one of the 18 countries in which food insecurity is mostly due to extreme weather events, according to the IPC. Like many people in this region, Rukia depends on herding and small-scale farming for survival.  

Food insecurity is just one of the impacts of climate change that disproportionately affects children. Recently, extreme heat has forced schools to close around the world, from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, to South Sudan.  

The expert dialogue on children and climate change at the UN Bonn Climate Change Conference on 4 June will be the first meeting focused on children in global climate negotiations. Save the Children hopes it will lead to a common understanding of the unique, disproportionate impacts of climate change on children and unlock more investment for and action towards climate policy solutions aimed specifically at children.  

A report published last year by Save the Children and partners found that just 2.4% of climate finance from key global climate funds can be classified as supporting projects incorporating child-responsive activities. Some funders have recently acknowledged this gap, for example the Green Climate Fund is actively working with partners to bridge child-focused climate finance. 

Jack Wakefield, Global Policy and Advocacy Lead for Climate Change at Save the Children, said:

“At its heart, the climate crisis is a child rights crisis. Children are at huge risk, despite being the least responsible for soaring global emissions – and this contrast is even starker for children facing hunger and conflict, inequality and discrimination.”  

“No child should have to go to school on an empty stomach, jeopardising their right to learn, play, grow healthily and develop. Families like Rukia’s, who depend on small-scale farming to survive, have done nothing to contribute to this crisis.  

“So it’s encouraging to see that for the first time, global climate negotiations are dedicating much needed space to discussing the unique, terrible impacts of the climate crisis on children’s rights and lives – and the solutions needed. For the sake of the world’s 2.4 billion children, let’s hope this builds momentum to putting children's needs and voices at the centre of the global response to climate change - including the new climate finance goal – and that it helps catalyze the urgent action we need to see on every front.” 


[1] According to data from the Integrated Food Security Classification or IPC scale, a monitoring system for assessing hunger emergencies in 59 countries, 72 million people in 18 countries were facing IPC/CH Phase 3, defined as crisis levels of acute food insecurity or worse, above, in countries where extreme weather was the main cause of hunger.  

Conflict remains the biggest driver overall of food insecurity having pushed 135 million people in 20 countries into hunger. Economic shocks were the main driver of hunger for 75 million people in 21 countries.  

The 18 countries where according to the IPC, weather extremes were the primary driver of hunger in 2023 were Angola, Burundi, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Somalia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

Child shares were calculated at a country level using 2023 estimates from the UN World Population Prospects. Children made up 45% of the 72 million people, at about 33 million.  

The 22% increase in the number of children in IPC3+ in 2023 due to extreme weather compared to 2022 is based on a comparison of 15 of the 18 countries with comparable data between 2022 and 2023. Pakistan and Angola were excluded from the comparison percentage due to large increases in the share of the national population analysed in 2023. Colombia was excluded as there was no IPC for the country in 2022. 

[2] Households in IPC3 either have food consumption gaps that are reflected by high or above-usual acute malnutrition or are only marginally able to meet food needs by depleting essential livelihood assets or through crisis-coping strategies. 

[3] Under the IPC’s global scale to monitor food and nutrition crises, Phase 3 is a crisis, Phase 4 is an emergency, and Phase 5 is used when the situation is reaching famine-like conditions. 

[4] The 29 million people includes an estimated 13 million children. 

Original source: Save the Children

Image credit: Seifu Asseged/Save the Children