The total number of people affected by hunger worldwide has increased by 150 million since the beginning of the new coronavirus pandemic, reaching 828 million in 2021.
This is what reveals the report The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, launched today (6) by five agencies of the United Nations (UN): the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Program (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the assessment of the heads of the five UN agencies, the report highlights the intensification of the main factors of food insecurity and malnutrition which are “conflicts, climate shocks and economic shocks, combined with growing inequalities.” They ratified that more measures must be taken. bold actions to build resilience against future shocks.
The document signals that the world is moving further away from the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger, which was on the order of 8% in 2019, grew to 9.3% in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021, reaching 9.8% of the world’s population.
Another worrying fact is that about 2.3 billion people in the world (29.3% of the total) faced moderate or severe food insecurity last year, which corresponds to 350 million more compared to the pre-pandemic period. Some 924 million people (11.7% of the global population) faced severe food insecurity, up from 207 million people in two years.
women and children
Food insecurity continued to increase in 2021, by gender. About 32% of women in the world faced moderate or severe food insecurity, compared to 27.6% of men. The difference was more than four percentage points compared to the three percentage points seen in 2020.
According to the report, around 45 million children under the age of five were underweight for their height (wasting), which is the deadliest form of malnutrition, which increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times. In addition, 149 million children under five had stunted growth and development (stunting) due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diets. On the other hand, 39 million were overweight.
A positive fact reported by the report is that, in terms of exclusive breastfeeding, progress is being made. Nearly 44% of babies under six months of age were exclusively breastfed worldwide in 2020. But the number is still below the 50% target set by 2030. Another major concern is that two out of three children do not receive the minimum diversified diet they need to grow and develop to their fullest potential, the publication indicates.
On the negative side, approximately 3.1 billion people were unable to pay for healthy food in 2020, an increase of 112 million over the previous year, reflecting the effects of inflation on consumer food prices, as a result of the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it.
“The unprecedented scale of the malnutrition crisis calls for an unprecedented response,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. She said that everyone’s efforts must be redoubled 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. “With the lives and futures of so many children at stake, now is the time to step up our ambition for child nutrition. We don’t have time to waste,” she indicated.
Representatives of the five UN agencies noted that, at the time the report is being published, there is a war going on in Ukraine, involving two of the world’s biggest producers of staple cereals, oilseeds and fertilizers. The conflict is disrupting international supply chains and driving up prices for grains, fertilizers, energy, as well as ready-to-use therapeutic foods for children with severe malnutrition.
Supply chains are already being adversely affected by increasingly frequent extreme weather events, particularly in low-income countries, with severe implications for global food security and nutrition, the agencies highlighted.
The report notes that global support for the food and agriculture sector totaled nearly $630 billion a year between 2013 and 2018. Most of the funds go to individual farmers through trade and market policies and tax subsidies. According to the study, however, this support is distorted by the market, as well as not reaching many farmers, which harms the environment and does not promote the production of nutritious foods that make up a healthy diet.
This is in part because subsidies often target the production of staple foods, dairy and other animal foods, especially in high- and middle-income countries, while fruits and vegetables are less supported, particularly in low-income.
The UN agencies signing the report consider that, with the threats of a looming global recession and its implications for public revenue and expenditure, one way to support economic recovery would be through redefining food and agricultural support for targeted nutritious foods where the consumption per capitathat is, per individual, does not yet correspond to the levels recommended for healthy diets.
It is up to governments to rethink the allocation of resources used to encourage the production, supply and consumption of nutritious food, in order to make healthy food cheaper, more accessible and equitable for all people. The document recommends that governments could reduce trade barriers for nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables.
For FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, “Low-income countries, where agriculture is critical to the economy, jobs and rural livelihoods, have few public resources to reuse. FAO is committed to continuing to work together with these countries to explore opportunities to increase the delivery of public services to all actors in all agrifood systems”.
The projected scenario for 2030 is not optimistic, according to the report. Projections are that around 670 million people (8% of the world’s population) will still face hunger in 2030, “even if a global economic recovery is taken into account.” The number is similar to that of 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.
IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo called the numbers depressing for humanity. “We continue to move away from our goal of ending hunger by 2030. The effects of the global food crisis are likely to worsen the outcome again next year. We need a more intensive approach to ending hunger and IFAD is ready to do its part by increasing its operations and impact. We look forward to having the support of all the people,” he said.
In the assessment of WFP Executive Director David Beasley, there is a real danger that the numbers will rise even further in the coming months. He estimated that the global increases in food, fuel and fertilizer prices resulting from the Ukraine crisis threaten to push countries around the world into starvation. “The result will be global destabilization, famine and mass migration on an unprecedented scale. We have to act today to prevent this impending catastrophe,” he defended.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented that annually 11 million people die from unhealthy diets and that rising food prices point to a worsening of this scenario. “WHO supports countries’ efforts to improve food systems by taxing unhealthy foods and subsidizing healthy options, protecting children from harmful ‘marketing’ and ensuring clear nutrition labels. We must work together to achieve the 2030 global nutrition targets, fight hunger and malnutrition, to ensure that food is a source of health for all people”, highlighted the WHO Director-General.
Regarding Brazil, the document indicates that the prevalence of severe food insecurity rose from 3.9 million, or the equivalent of 1.9% of the population, between 2014 and 2016, to 15.4 million (7.3%), between 2019 and 2021. The prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in relation to the total population increased from 37.5 million people (18.3%), between 2014 and 2016, to 61.3 million people (28.9% ), between 2019 and 2021.