18.09.2017 |

World hunger is on the rise again, affecting 815 million people

Market girl in Myanmar, where 16.9% of the population are undernourished (Photo: CC0)

The number of undernourished people in the world has increased to an estimated 815 million in 2016, according to a report released by five UN agencies on Friday. For the first time since the turn of the century, the number of hungry people is on the rise again, up 38 million from the previous year. The report, published jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization, says that conflicts, exacerbated by climate-related shocks, are a cause of much of the recent increase in food insecurity.

Almost two thirds of the world’s hungry, or 520 million people, live in Asia, followed by Africa with 243 million and Latin America and the Caribbean with 42 million undernourished people. The report also noted a rise in the share of people globally who are chronically hungry, from 10.6% of the world population in 2015 to 11% in 2016. Africa remains the region with the highest share of undernourished people, affecting an alarming 20% of the population in 2016. The situation is especially urgent in Eastern Africa, where 33.9% of the population is estimated to be undernourished. In Asia, 11.7% of the population are suffering from hunger, while the share is 6.6% in Latin America and the Caribbean. The report only counts people as hungry if they have been unable to acquire enough food to meet their minimum dietary energy requirements (around 1,800 kilocalories per day) for more than a year.

But there is more bad news: The report says that some 155 million children aged under five are stunted (too short for their age), while 52 million suffer from wasting, meaning their weight is too low for their height. At the same time, multiple forms of malnutrition are threatening the health of millions worldwide. An estimated 41 million children are overweight. “This has set off alarm bells we cannot afford to ignore: we will not end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030 unless we address all the factors that undermine food security and nutrition,” the heads of the five UN agencies write in their joint foreword to the report. However, the report singles out just one cause - conflict - as one of the key drivers behind the resurgence of hunger and many forms of malnutrition. “Over the past decade, conflicts have risen dramatically in number and become more complex and intractable in nature. Some of the highest proportions of food-insecure and malnourished children are found in countries affected by conflict, a situation that is even more alarming in countries characterized by prolonged conflicts and fragile institutions,” the five UN officials added. According to David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, 60% of the chronically food insecure or 489 million people live in conflict zones. “With all the technology and wealth, this is a shame,” he said at the press conference in Rome. “We should be going into another direction.” If current trends continue, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 of ending global hunger and malnutrition by 2030 will not be reached.

The UN report comes just a few days after FAO published its forecast for the global cereal production to reach 2.6 billion tonnes in 2017, an all-time record. World cereal stocks are expected to hit a record high of 719 million tonnes. However, food loss and waste affects more than a third of the total amount of food produced. In addition, only 43% of the cereal production is directly used as food, while 35% is used as animal feed. The remained is burnt or processed into fuel and other industrial products. (ab)

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