13.07.2020 |

World hunger increases for fifth year in a row, UN report

Two billion people do not have access to nutritious food (Photo: CC0)

The number of undernourished people in the world has increased by more than 60 million people since 2014 and countries around the world continue to struggle with multiple forms of malnutrition, warns a report released on Monday by five UN agencies. According to “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”, an estimated 687.8 million people, or almost one in every ten people, were chronically undernourished in 2019, up from 678.1 million in the previous year. This is the fifth increase in a row. If this trend continues, the number of undernourished people will exceed 840 million by 2030 even without the negative effects that COVID-19 will likely have on hunger. The report suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may add up to 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020 depending on the economic growth scenario. This means that the world is not on track to achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG2) which aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030. “Beyond hunger, a growing number of people have had to reduce the quantity and quality of the food they consume,” the heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation write in their joint foreword to the report. In 2019, 746 million people were facing severe food insecurity and more than 1.25 billion people experienced food insecurity at moderate levels. “This situation could deteriorate if we do not act immediately and boldly,” the UN agencies warn in the foreword.

This year’s figure of almost 690 million undernourished people is much lower than the 821 million people in 2018 from last year’s report. The authors argue that updates for many countries have made it possible to estimate hunger in the world with greater accuracy this year. The current estimate is based on new data on population (2019 revision of the World Population Prospects), food supply and more importantly, new household survey data that enabled the revision of the inequality of food consumption for 13 countries, including China. Revising the undernourishment estimate for China going back to the year 2000 resulted in a significantly lower number of undernourished people worldwide because China has one-fifth of the global population. “While still facing food security and nutrition challenges, China has made impressive economic and social development gains since the last update that were not reflected in previous assessments,” the authors write. Despite the revision, the upwards trend in the number of people affected by hunger globally continues.

The hungry are most numerous in Asia, but the figure is expanding fastest in Africa. Approximately 55.4% of the world’s undernourished people, or 381.1 million people, live in Asia, mostly in southern Asian countries, followed by Africa with 250.3 million (36.4%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 47.7 million (6.9%). If current trends persist, the distribution of hunger in the world could change substantially, turning Africa into the region with the highest number of undernourished in 2030. By 2030, Africa could be home to 433 million undernourished people, followed by Asia with 329 million. Not only is the number of undernourished people on the rise, but also the share of undernourished people in the total population. The prevalence of undernourishment increased from 8.6% in 2014 to 8.9% of the world population in 2019. Africa remained the region with the highest share (19.1% of the total population). The situation is especially alarming in Eastern Africa, where more than a quarter of the population (27.2%) is undernourished and in Middle Africa, which includes countries such as Chad and Congo, were 29.8% of the population is undernourished. In Asia, 8.3% of the population are affected while the share is 7.4% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report also introduces new analysis of the cost and affordability of healthy diets around the world. According to the report, the cost of a healthy diet, which for example includes the consumption of at least 400 g of fruits and vegetables per day, exceeds the international poverty line (established at USD 1.90 purchasing power parity (PPP) per person per day), making it unaffordable for the poor. The price of even the least expensive healthy diet is at five times the price of filling stomachs with starch only. Nutrient-rich dairy, fruits, vegetables and protein-rich foods (plant and animal-sourced) are the most expensive food groups globally. The latest estimates are that a staggering 3 billion people or more cannot afford a healthy diet. In sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, this is the case for 57% of the population. But not a single region, not even North America and Europe, is spared. “It is unacceptable that, in a world that produces enough food to feed its entire population, more than 1.5 billion people cannot afford a diet that meets the required levels of essential nutrients and over 3 billion people cannot even afford the cheapest healthy diet. People without access to healthy diets live in all regions of the world; thus, we are facing a global problem that affects us all,” the UN agencies write. The report argues that a global switch to healthy diets would also deliver enormous savings. Such a shift would allow the health costs associated with unhealthy diets, estimated to reach US$ 1.3 trillion a year in 2030, to be almost entirely offset; while the diet-related social cost of greenhouse gas emissions, estimated at US$ 1.7 trillion, could be cut by up to three-quarters. (ab)

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Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
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