02.07.2023 |

Up to 783 million people in the world are suffering from hunger

Harvesting rice (Photo: CC0/Pixabay)

The number of people suffering from hunger globally has increased by 122 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing the world far off track to meet the goal of zero hunger. According to a report released on July 12th by five UN agencies, as many as 783 million people worldwide were chronically undernourished in 2022 – almost one in ten people. While the numbers of people facing hunger globally have stabilised after increasing sharply in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, and rising more slowly in 2021, hunger is still increasing in some world regions, especially in Africa. “Agrifood systems remain highly vulnerable to shocks and disruptions arising from conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic contraction. These factors, combined with growing inequities, keep challenging the capacity of agrifood systems to deliver nutritious, safe and affordable diets for all,” 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 (WHO) write in their joint foreword to the report. They underline that these major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition are our ‘new normal’.

The 2023 edition of ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’, like the two previous reports, gives a range of people suffering from hunger to reflect the uncertainty in data collection that still persists even though data reporting has begun to get back to normal. It is estimated that hunger affected between 691 million and 783 million people in 2022. Considering the middle of the projected range (735 million), the number of undernourished people has increased by 20% since 2019 when it stood at 613 million. According to the latest data, the proportion of people affected by hunger (called the prevalence of undernourishment) first went down from 12.1% in 2005 to 7.7% in 2014. Then it remained at that level before it jumped with the outbreak of Covid-19, reaching 9.2% of the world population in 2022 – or 9.8% if the upper bound is considered. “Nonetheless, the increase in global hunger observed in the last two years has stalled and, in 2022, there were about 3.8 million fewer people suffering from hunger than in 2021. The economic recovery from the pandemic has contributed to this, but there is no doubt that the modest progress has been undermined by rising food and energy prices magnified by the war in Ukraine,” the five UN chiefs write in the foreword. They add that there is no room for complacency since the situation worsened in some parts of the world.

Africa remains the worst-affected region with respect to the prevalence of undernourishment, with one in five people (19.7%) going hungry on the continent – more than twice the global average – whereas Asia accounts for the largest total numbers. More than half (54.6%) of the 735 million people who were undernourished in 2022 lived in Asia (401.6 million people), followed by Africa with 281.6 million (38.3%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 43.2 million (5.9%). The number of people facing hunger in Africa has increased by 11 million people since 2021 and by more than 57 million people since the outbreak of the pandemic. The prevalence of undernourishment (mid-range) increased as well and the situation was especially alarming in Middle Africa, the sub-region including countries such as Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where almost a third of the population (29.1%) was undernourished last year. In Eastern Africa, 28.5% of the population faced hunger. In Asia, 8.5% of all people were affected in 2022 but the figure was much higher for the sub-regions of South Asia (15.6%) and Western Asia (10.8%). Latin America and the Caribbean as a region showed progress since the share of undernourishment fell from 7.0% in 2021 to 6.5% in 2022 – a decrease of 2.4 million people – but still 7.2 million more than in 2019. This was largely due to progress in South America while the food security situation deteriorated in the Caribbean sub-region, where the share of undernourishment went up from 14.7% in 2021 to 16.3% in 2022.

The report not only provides estimates on the number of chronically undernourished people but also on the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity. Moderate food insecurity, defined as “a level of severity of food insecurity at which people face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food” which means that they are forced “to reduce, at times during the year, the quality and/or quantity of food they consume due to lack of money or other resources”. Overall, nearly one in three people (29.6%) in the world (2.4 billion) did not have year-round access to adequate food in 2022 – an increase of almost 391 million people compared to 2019. Out of these 2.4 billion people, 900 million people (or 11.3% of all people in the world), were severely food insecure which means they ran out of food, experienced hunger and, at the most extreme, went for days without eating, putting their health and well-being at grave risk. This is an increase of almost 50 million people compared 2019. Another problem is the limited capacity of people to access healthy diets: In 2021, more than 3.1 billion people – or 42% of people globally – could not afford a healthy diet, up 134 million from 2019. The good news is that the number decreased by 52 million people from 2020 to 2021.

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 (6.8%) were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition. Affected children are dangerously thin, with weakened immunity and a higher risk of mortality. In addition, 148 million children (22.3%) 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. Globally, the prevalence of stunting among children under five has declined steadily, from an estimated 33% in 2000. Child overweight has been on the rise in many countries, driven by a lack of physical activity and increased access to highly processed foods. Globally, the prevalence of overweight stood at 5.6% in 2022, affecting 37 million children. “Malnutrition is a major threat to children’s survival, growth and development,” said Catherine Russell, Executive Director of UNICEF. “The scale of the nutrition crisis demands a stronger response focused on children, including prioritizing access to nutritious and affordable diets and essential nutrition services, protecting children and adolescents from nutrient-poor, ultra-processed foods, and strengthening food and nutrition supply chains including for fortified and therapeutic foods for children.”

The outlook provided in the report is grim. 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 600 million people will still be facing hunger in 2030. 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. The current estimate of 600 million people is about 119 million more undernourished people than in a scenario in which both the pandemic and the war in Ukraine had not occurred, and around 23 million more than if the war in Ukraine had not happened. “Hunger is rising while the resources we urgently need to protect the most vulnerable are running dangerously low,” says WFP Executive Director, Cindy McCain. “As humanitarians, we are facing the greatest challenge we’ve ever seen. We need the global community to act swiftly, smartly, and compassionately to reverse course and turn the tide on hunger.” IFAD President, Alvaro Lario is still optimistic that a world without hunger is possible and that hunger can be eradicated if we make it a global priority: “What we are missing is the investments and political will to implement solutions at scale,” he said. Lario recommends investments in small-scale farmers and in their adaptation to climate change, access to inputs and technologies, and access to finance to set up small agribusinesses. “Small-scale producers are part of the solution. Properly supported, they can produce more food, diversify production, and supply both urban and rural markets – feeding rural areas and cities nutritious and locally grown food.” (ab)

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