Spike in global hunger

Aqilah Rahman

As part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations (UN) has set its sights on ending world hunger by 2030, but statistics show that global hunger is on the rise.

The worsening issue of food insecurity was recently highlighted in a report titled State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, jointly prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the report, while some progress has been made, “the world is not on track to achieve any global nutrition targets by 2030”.

For the past five years, the prevalence of undernourishment has been “virtually unchanged”, but in 2020, between 720 million and 811 million faced hunger. Considering the upper bound of the range, up to an additional 161 million people faced hunger in 2020 compared to 2019.

From 2019 to 2020, an additional 320 million people did not have enough food to eat – equivalent to the previous five years combined. In total, almost one-third of the world did not have access to adequate food in 2020.

Internally displaced Yemenis whose camp was ravaged by fire two days earlier receive food aid in the village of al-Durayhimi, on the southern edge of the flashpoint Red Sea port city of Hodeida on July 19. Many Yemenis live in extreme poverty in a country where a grinding war that has plunged the population into what the UN has labelled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. PHOTO: AFP

Aside from not having enough food, the global population also struggles to keep a healthy diet. The high cost of healthy food combined with the high level poverty has made three billion people unable to eat healthy, nutritious food.

Meanwhile, over 900 million were severely food insecure in 2020, up by 148 million from 2019. Undernourishment is most prevalent in Asia (418 million) and Africa (282 million).

Child malnutrition remains an alarming issue. In 2020, an estimated 149 million children were stunted, 45 million were wasted and 39 million were overweight. Due to data limitations, the actual figures are expected to be higher due to the pandemic, particularly for stunting and wasting.

The pandemic is expected to have long-term health effects. Between 2020 and 2030, it is projected that an additional 22 million children in low- and middle-income countries will be stunted. Furthermore, up to 40 million will be wasted.

By 2030, global hunger is projected to decline to 660 million. However, not all regions will observe a drop in hunger rates. The prevalence of hunger in Asia is projected to decrease from 418 million to 300 million people, while Africa’s is projected to increase from 280 million to 300 million. This would place Asia and Africa as the two regions with the highest number of undernourished people.

“With less than a decade to 2030, the world is not on track to ending world hunger and malnutrition; and in the case of world hunger, we are moving in the wrong direction,” said the report.

Major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition include conflict, climate extremes and economic downturns. Observed trends indicate that undernourishment is 12 times more prevalent in countries affected by multiple drivers instead of just one.

For low-income countries, undernourishment is most prevalent in areas affected by conflict and climate extremes. Middle-income countries have the highest prevalence of undernourishment during economic downturns.

In 2019, countries affected by multiple drivers had the highest percentage of the population who could not afford a healthy diet (68 per cent). On average, this is 39 per cent higher than countries affected by a single driver, and 66 per cent higher than countries not affected by any driver.

Countries affected by multiple drivers also had higher levels of moderate or severe food insecurity (47 per cent), compared to countries affected by a single driver (42 per cent) and countries not affected by any driver (34 per cent). Healthy food is generally less affordable in countries with conflict.

The report outlines six pathways to tackle the global issue of hunger and food insecurity.

These are: “integrating humanitarian, development and peacebuilding policies in conflict-affected areas; scaling up climate resilience across food systems; strengthening the resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity; intervening along the food supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods; tackling poverty and structural inequalities, ensuring interventions are pro-poor and inclusive; and strengthening food environments and changing consumer behaviour to promote dietary patterns with positive impacts on human health and the environment”.