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‘Depressing figures for humanity’: UN report reveals worsening state of global hunger

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Almost 828 million were affected by hunger globally in 2021, a new United Nations report found, highlighting fresh evidence that the world is moving backwards in its fight to end hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition.

The new report entitled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) found that the number of people suffering from hunger globally increased by almost 46 million since 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the global economy, and 150 million more since 2019.

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The report outlined updates on the global state of food security and nutrition, the latest estimates of the cost and affordability of a healthy diet, and the ways in which governments can repurpose their current support to the agricultural industry and make healthy food cheaper.

Approximately 2.3 billion people (29.3 percent) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021 – 350 million more compared to before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 924 million people faced food insecurity at severe levels, accounting for an increase of 207 million in just two years.

Speaking at the SOFI launch in New York on Thursday, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said that the report’s figures were a “shocking report card of our efforts to end hunger.”

“These are people whose lives, livelihoods and prospects for a fruitful and dignified life are being crippled, with their future eroded and potential aspirations held back,” she added.

Almost 3.1 billion could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from the year before the pandemic, reflecting the economic impacts of the pandemic, such as inflation, and the measures put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Particularly worrying was the fact that an estimated 45 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting – the deadliest form of malnutrition which involves changes in the way one’s body uses proteins, carbohydrates and fat, leading to involuntary weight loss and muscle mass. Wasting increases the risk of death by up to 12 times, the UN said.

“They need our crosscutting resolve. The evidence presented in this report is compelling as it is outrageous when we see that children in rural settings and poorer households, whose mothers received no formal education, were even more vulnerable to stunting and wasting,” Mohammed said.

Amina Hassan Aden sits with her children Yonis Saleban, 1, Abdulahi Saleban, 3, and Isnino Saleban, 9, inside their makeshift shelter at the Kaxareey camp for the internally displaced people in Dollow, Gedo region of Somalia May 24, 2022. (Reuters)
Amina Hassan Aden sits with her children Yonis Saleban, 1, Abdulahi Saleban, 3, and Isnino Saleban, 9, inside their makeshift shelter at the Kaxareey camp for the internally displaced people in Dollow, Gedo region of Somalia May 24, 2022. (Reuters)

The global organization also reported that another 149 million children under the age of five had stunted growth and development due to the lack of essential nutrients in their diet, while 39 million were reported to be overweight.

“These are depressing figures for humanity,” said President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development Gilbert Houngbo.

“We continue to move away from our goal of ending hunger by 2030. 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 and IFAD stands ready to do its part by scaling up its operations and impact.”

Ukraine war, climate change are major drivers

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24 this year, caused immense disruption to the supply of staple cereals, oilseeds, and fertilizer from both nations and global supply chains, the report stated.

This disruption has led to soaring food prices and worsened the state of food insecurity.

Extreme climate events, within the context of this disruption during the Ukraine war, has only made matters worse in low-income countries.

“This report repeatedly highlights the intensification of these major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition: Conflict, climate extremes, and economic shocks, combined with growing inequalities,” the heads of the five UN agencies involved in the report wrote.

“The issue at stake is not whether adversities will continue to occur or not, but how we must take bolder action to build resilience against future shocks.”

World Food Program chief David Beasley said the “real danger” was that these figures were likely to increase “in the months ahead,” resulting in: “Global destabilization, starvation, and mass migration on an unprecedented scale. We have to act today to avert this looming catastrophe.”

The report urged governments to take immediate action, suggesting they repurpose the resources being used to incentivize production, supply, and consumption of nutritious foods in order to make healthy foods more affordable and to reduce trade barriers to help lower the price of nutritious foods.

Read more:

Food security was ‘deteriorating’ before Ukraine war, but has worsened since: Expert

Arab-backed development fund to tackle global food insecurity with $10 bln package

What can be done to mitigate the food security crisis? FAO economist weighs in

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