16.07.2019 |

More than 820 million people worldwide are still going hungry, UN

Progress in the fight against hunger has been too slow (Photo: CC0)

The number of undernourished people in the world has increased to more than 820 million in 2018, or one in every nine people, warns a report released on Monday by five UN agencies. At the same time, overweight and obesity are growing in all world regions, particularly among school-age children and adults. According to “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”, an estimated 821.6 million people did not have enough to eat in 2018, up from 811 million in the previous year. After a decade of steady decline, this is the third year of increase in a row. Considering all people in the world affected by moderate levels of food insecurity together with those who suffer from hunger, it is estimated that over 2 billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. “Our actions to tackle these troubling trends will have to be bolder, not only in scale but also in terms of multisectoral collaboration, involving the agriculture, food, health, water and sanitation, education, and other relevant sectors; and in different policy domains, including social protection, development planning and economic policy,” the heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization urged in their joint foreword to the report.

Almost 62.5% of the world’s undernourished people, or 513.9 million, live in Asia, mostly in southern Asian countries, followed by Africa with 256.1 million (31.2%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 42.5 million. The report also notes that the share of people who are chronically hungry remains virtually unchanged in the past three years at a level slightly below 11%. Africa remains the region with the highest share of undernourishment, affecting 20% of the population in 2018. The situation is especially alarming in Eastern Africa, where a third of the population (30.8%) is undernourished. In addition to climate and conflict, economic slowdowns and downturns are driving the rise. In Asia, 11.3% of the population are affected while the share is 6.5% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

This year’s report highlights that hunger is increasing in many countries where economic growth is lagging, particularly in middle-income countries and those that rely heavily on international primary commodity trade. The authors write that income inequality is rising in many of the countries affected by food insecurity, making it even more difficult for the poor, vulnerable or marginalized to cope with economic slowdowns and downturns. The chances of being food insecure are higher for women than men, with the largest gap in Latin America. “We must recognize the importance of safeguarding food security and nutrition in times of economic difficulty. We must invest wisely during periods of economic booms to reduce economic vulnerability and build capacity to withstand and quickly recover when economic turmoil erupts,” the UN leaders said in the foreword. “We must foster pro-poor and inclusive structural transformation focusing on people and placing communities at the centre to reduce economic vulnerabilities and set ourselves on track to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition while ‘leaving no one behind’.”

And there is more bad news: Some 148.9 million children aged under five (21.9%) are stunted (too short for their age), while 49.5 million (7.3%) suffer from wasting, meaning their weight is too low for their height. “With regard to nutrition indicators, we are faring no better. If current trends continue, we will meet neither the 2030 SDG Target to halve the number of stunted children nor the 2025 World Health Assembly target to reduce the prevalence of low birthweight by 30 percent,” the UN leaders continue. Together, Africa and Asia bear the greatest share of all forms of malnutrition, accounting for more than nine out of ten of all stunted children and over nine out of ten of all wasted children worldwide. At the same time, overweight and obesity continue to increase in all regions, particularly among school-age children and adults. Adult obesity continued to rise, from 11.7% in 2012 to 13.2% worldwide in 2016. 672 million adults are obese. In addition, 338 million school-age children and adolescents are overweight. The report calls for a profound transformation of food systems to provide sustainably-produced healthy diets for a growing world population. This requires balancing a set of policies and investments to achieve a structural transformation that also fosters poverty reduction and more egalitarian societies. “We must also ensure that reducing gender inequalities and social exclusion of population groups is either the means to, or the outcome of, improved food security and nutrition,” the UN heads conclude in their foreword. (ab)

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