Dr David Nabarro, special envoy of the World Health Organization on COVID-19, urged the church and civil society leaders to act now in the briefing with participants from different parts of the world, particularly Africa.
After an introduction by Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, Nabarro cautioned, "that we don't look back on 2022 as the year where there was a crisis of civilization, because building on the pandemic, humanity we just could not find a way to promote equity, the realization of rights, and the wellbeing of not just people, but our beautiful planet."
"So, we can offer it to future generations as a place of hope and growth," said Nabarro.
The WHO envoy said he became aware in the middle of last year, "listening to many ministers of agriculture, coming together at a meeting in Rome in July, just one after the other saying it's not working, climate change, COVID-19 and conflict are making the food security of our peoples really disturbing."
Trade systems not working
Nabarro cited global trade systems not working, countries dependent on imports because of the COVID-19 crisis, and unable to get what they need.
He said, "Farmers, because of climate change and COVID-19, particularly smallholder farmers and fishers, cannot produce what they need."
Marianne Ejdersten, WCC director of Communication, outlined the current trigger of a crisis.
"The world faces a food crisis triggered by war in a major breadbasket area of the world, making many other places face acute hunger, but the planet faced a food crunch before the war in Ukraine started," said Ejdersten.
"A new global crisis is emerging from the war in Ukraine, with the potential to cause millions of people to go hungry, push food prices higher and spark unrest far from the conflict zone," Ejdersten said. She highlighted that 811 million people go to bed hungry every night.
"Together. Russia and Ukraine account for more than a quarter of the global wheat supplies exporting to countries including Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen, and Somalia, among many other countries," said Ejdersten. "These are the most vulnerable populations in the world."
Sofía Monsalve Suárez, secretary-general of FIAN International, the international human rights organization for the right to food and nutrition, said it is essential to look at when the crisis started.
"We have been in crisis since 2007, if you want if you remember the first big food crisis that we had, at that time," said Monsalve Suárez. "And it’s the structural drivers of this food crisis, for instance, the inequality in terms of controlling land and natural resources, the inequalities in terms of tax justice, the issue of debt, has been mentioned."
The FIAN leader accused the World Bank and many international financial institutions of convincing countries and forcing them to dismantle their national capacity to produce food, store food and have public food programmes for distribution for schools and the like.
"Therefore, they were told it is better to rely on the global market. But now, since COVID-19, we have seen that these global food supply chains are extremely vulnerable to these eruptions, because of climate conditions, or because of geopolitical and war issues, as we see now," said Monsalve Suárez.
Dr Thorsten Göbel, director of Programmes for the ACT Alliance, spoke on the global impact of the crisis on humanitarian responses and where hunger is strongly felt.
"We've heard or seen from ACT members that this has been particularly the case in conflict-ridden countries, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Afghanistan or Syria," said Göbel.
Mervyn Abrahams of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group spoke on the national situation in South Africa.
"We have seen food prices spike since the beginning of COVID-19. And that has continued. So yes, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has sharpened the spike. But the issue around increasing food prices has been with us for quite a while," said Abrahams. He noted that food availability is not a problem in South Africa, an exporter and that prices outstripping earnings are hitting the most vulnerable communities.
Impact on children
However, he said, "We have seen, in South Africa, it was reported that 199 children under the age of five in our public hospital system have died as a direct result of malnutrition in only the first two months of this year."
Prof. Dr Esther Mombo of the theology department at St Paul's University in Limuru, Kenya.
And yet the Kenyan theologian reminded that "the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people has some lessons for us as we face the hunger crisis in different parts of the world."
She said, "There is enough food to feed everybody in the world.
When Jesus saw a crowd of people, he told his disciples to give them food. When we provide food to the hungry, we are not doing them a favour, but acting as expected of us by God, as God's people through Jesus Christ."