11.09.2018 |

World hunger continues to rise due to climate extremes, UN warns

The reports calls for the promotion of sustainable, healthy diets (Photo: CC0)

The number of undernourished people in the world has increased to an estimated 821 million in 2017, or one in every nine people, warns a report released on Tuesday by five UN agencies. Climate variability and extremes, in addition to conflict and economic slowdowns in some parts of the world, are the key drivers. According to the report, world hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row, returning to levels from a decade ago. “This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done and urgently if the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030,” the organizations said in a press release. Also the number of people facing crisis-level food insecurity continued to increase from 108 million people in 2016 to 124 million in 2017. “Every five seconds a child is dying from starvation. And there is 300 trillion dollars’ worth of wealth in the world today – that’s unacceptable and it is inexcusable,” said David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, at the press conference in Rome.

Almost 63% of the world’s undernourished people, or 515 million people, live in Asia, followed by Africa with 256.5 million (31%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 39.3 million. The situation is worsening in South America and most regions of Africa while Asia’s decreasing trend in undernourishment seems to be slowing down. The report also noted a rise in the share of people who are chronically hungry, from 10.8% of the world population in 2016 to 10.9% in 2017. Africa remains the region with the highest share of undernourishment, affecting an alarming 20.4% of the population in 2017. The situation is especially urgent in Eastern Africa, where 31.4% are undernourished. In Asia, 11.4% of the population are affected while the share is 6.1% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report shows that hunger is significantly worse in countries with agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability and severe drought, and where the livelihood of a high proportion of the population depends on agriculture. “The majority of people most vulnerable to climate shocks and natural hazards are the world’s 2.5 billion small-scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities, who derive their food and income from renewable natural resources,” says the report. Changes in climate are already undermining production of major crops such as wheat, rice and maize in tropical and temperate regions and, without building climate resilience, this is expected to worsen as temperatures increase and become more extreme. “If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems and people’s livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes,” warns the report.

And there is more bad news: Some 151 million children aged under five are stunted (too short for their age), most of them in Africa and Asia, while 50.5 million suffer from wasting, meaning their weight is too low for their height. At the same time, adult obesity continues to rise each year, from 11.7% in 2012 to 13.2% in 2016, or 672.3 million people. “The problem of obesity is most significant in North America, but it is worrying that even Africa and Asia, which still show the lowest rates of obesity, are also experiencing an upward trend,” write the heads of the five UN agencies in the foreword. The reports calls for implementing and scaling up interventions aimed at guaranteeing access to nutritious foods and breaking the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition. It recommends market regulations that discourage the consumption of unhealthy foods as well as policies that promote the availability and consumption of healthy foods. “A sustainable shift must be made towards nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems that can provide safe and high quality food for all,” the report concludes. (ab)

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