NewsWorld

Pandemic year marked by spike in world hunger, reveals new UN Report

  • Africa posts biggest jump

ADDIS ABABA – There was a dramatic worsening of world hunger in 2020, the United Nations said today – much of it likely related to the fallout of COVID-19.

While the pandemic’s impact has yet to be fully mapped, a multi-agency report estimates that around a tenth of the global population – up to 811 million people – were undernourished last year.

The number suggests it will take a tremendous effort for the world to honour its pledge to end hunger by 2030, according to the report jointly published by five UN agencies.



This year’s edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World is the first global assessment of its kind in the pandemic era.

Previous editions had already put the world on notice that the food security of millions – many children among them – was at stake.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” the heads of the five UN agencies write in the report’s Foreword.

They go on to warn of a “critical juncture,” even as they pin fresh hopes on increased diplomatic momentum.

The numbers in detail

Already in the mid-2010s, hunger had started creeping upwards, dashing hopes of irreversible decline.
Disturbingly, in 2020 hunger shot up in both absolute and proportional terms, outpacing population growth: some 9.9 percent of all people are estimated to have been undernourished last year, up from 8.4 percent in 2019.

More than half of all undernourished people (418 million) live in Asia; more than a third (282 million) in Africa; and a smaller proportion (60 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean.

But the sharpest rise in hunger was in Africa, where the estimated prevalence of undernourishment – at 21 percent of the population – is more than double that of any other region, the report shows.

On other measurements too, the year 2020 was sombre.

Overall, more than 2.3 billion people (or 30 percent of the global population) lacked year-round access to adequate food.

Malnutrition persisted in all its forms, with children paying a high price.

In 2020, over 149 million under-fives are estimated to have been stunted, or too short for their age; more than 45 million – wasted, or too thin for their height; and nearly 39 million – overweight, according to the report.

A full three-billion adults and children remained locked out of healthy diets, largely due to excessive costs.

Nearly a third of women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia. Globally, despite progress in some areas – more infants, for example, are being fed exclusively on breast milk – the world is not on track to achieve targets for any nutrition indicators by 2030.

Other drivers

In many parts of the world, the pandemic has triggered brutal recessions and jeopardized access to food.
Yet even before the pandemic, hunger was spreading; progress on malnutrition lagged.

This was all the more so in nations affected by conflict, climate extremes or other economic downturns, or battling high inequality – all of which the report identifies as major drivers of food insecurity, which in turn interact.

On current trends, the report estimates that Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger by 2030) will be missed by a margin of nearly 660 million people.

Of these 660 million, some 30 million may be linked to the pandemic’s lasting effects, it adds.

 

Featured Image: A woman sells fruit on the beach in Viet Nam. [Photo FAO]