07.07.2022 |

Up to 828 million people worldwide are facing hunger, UN report

Healthy diets are not affordable for 3.1 billion people around the world (Photo: CC0)

The world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. According to a new report released on Wednesday by five UN agencies, the number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021. This is about 180 million more people since the beginning of the 2030 Agenda, with much of the increase (150 million) since the outbreak of COVID-19. This means that a tenth of the global population were chronically undernourished last year. Furthermore, almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019, reflecting the effects of inflation in consumer food prices. “The challenges to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition keep growing. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the fragilities in our agrifood systems and the inequalities in our societies, driving further increases in world hunger and severe food insecurity,” the heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation write in their joint foreword to the report.

The 2022 edition of ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ gives a range of between 702 and 828 million people who were affected by hunger in 2021 to reflect the uncertainty in data collection due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. According to the authors, information on actual food availability and consumption in 2020 and 2021 remains scarce and imprecise. If the middle of the projected range (768 million) is considered, the number of undernourished people increased by 46 million since 2020. “There is a real danger these numbers will climb even higher in the months ahead. The global price spikes in food, fuel and fertilizers that we are seeing as a result of the crisis in Ukraine threaten to push countries around the world into famine,” warned WFP Executive Director David Beasley. “The result will be global destabilization, starvation, and mass migration on an unprecedented scale. We have to act today to avert this looming catastrophe.” More than half (56.2%) of the 828 million people who were undernourished in 2021 lived in Asia (465.4 million people), followed by Africa with 289.1 million (34.9%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 64 million (7.7%).

After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger (called the prevalence of undernourishment) jumped in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021, to 9.8 percent of the world population. If the upper bound of 828 million people is considered, the figure is at 10.5 %. The numbers show persistent regional disparities, with Africa bearing the heaviest burden with respect to the prevalence of undernourishment. In Africa, 21% of the population were undernourished in 2021, compared to 20.3% in 2020. The situation is especially alarming in Middle Africa, where a third of the population (33.3%) were undernourished last year. This subregion includes countries such as Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Eastern Africa, 30.8% of the population faced hunger. In Asia, 9.9% of the population were affected while the share was 9.7% in Latin America.

The report not only provides estimates on the number of chronically undernourished people but also on moderate and severe food insecurity. Moderate food insecurity is defined as “a level of severity of food insecurity at which people face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food” which means that people are forced to compromise on the nutritional quality and/or quantity of food consumed at times during the year due to the lack of money or other resources. Overall, nearly one in three people in the world (2.3 billion) did not have year-round access to adequate food in 2021 – an increase of almost 350 million people compared to 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. Of those people affected by moderate or severe food insecurity, close to 40% or 923.7 million people were facing food insecurity at severe levels, which means they had run out of food and, at worst, gone a day without eating. Since 2019, these numbers increased by 207 million people. Healthy diets are also now further out of reach for people in every region in the world. In 2020, almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet, up 112 million from 2019. This number could even be greater once data are available to account for income losses in 2020.

The report also paints a grim picture of the nutritional situation of the world’s children. An estimated 45 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition, which increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times. In addition, 149 million children under the age of five had stunted growth and development which means they are too short for their age due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diets. Another 39 million children were overweight. “The unprecedented scale of the malnutrition crisis demands an unprecedented response. We must double our efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable children have access to nutritious, safe, and affordable diets – and services for the early prevention, detection and treatment of malnutrition,” said Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF. “With so many children’s lives and futures at stake, this is the time to step up our ambition for child nutrition – and we have no time to waste.”

The outlook for the future is also quite somber. The ongoing war in Ukraine, involving two of the biggest global producers of staple cereals, oilseeds and fertilizer, is disrupting international supply chains and pushing up the prices of grain, fertilizer and energy. Supply chains were already being adversely affected by increasingly frequent extreme climate events, especially in low-income countries. This has all potentially sobering implications for global food security and nutrition, the report warns. The world is constantly moving further away from its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. Current projections are that nearly 670 million people (8% of the world population) will still be facing hunger in 2030 – even if a global economic recovery takes place. This is a similar number to 2015, when the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition by the end of this decade was launched under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “These are depressing figures for humanity. We continue to move away from our goal of ending hunger by 2030,” said IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo. “The ripple effects of the global food crisis will most likely worsen the outcome again next year. We need a more intense approach to end hunger.” (ab)

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