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UN Report: World efforts are moving backward in elimination of hunger and malnutrition

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Global numbers for people affected by hunger rose to 828 million in 2021, an increase of 46 million since 2020 and 150 million since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a United Nations report, the world is moving further away from its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition by 2030.

The 2022 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) looks at ways governments can repurpose current support to agriculture to reduce the cost of healthy diets, while aware of the limited public resources available to many citizens of the world. The report provides updates on food security and nutrition around the world, and the latest estimates of the cost of and affordability of a healthy diet.

The report is published jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“These are depressing figures for humanity,” IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo said in a press release. “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. We look forward to having everyone’s support.”

The report estimates that between 702 and 828 million people in the world were affected in 2021 by hunger, and the picture of world hunger is not pretty. After almost unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021 to 9.8 of the world’s population. In 2020, 9.3 percent were affected and 8 percent in 2019.

Hunger does not discriminate against gender. The gender gap continued to rise last year with 31.9 percent of women experiencing moderately to severe food insecurity, compared to 27.6 percent of men. 350 million more people in 2021 than before the pandemic began experienced moderately to severe food insecurity. Nearly 924 million people, which is 11.7 percent of the world’s population, faced food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 207 million in two years.

The report shows that nearly 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, an increase of 112 million from 2019. This increase is reflects the effects of inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and measures to contain it.

The report estimates that 45 million children under age five suffered from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition and increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times. Stunted growth and development was reported in 149 million children under the age of five because of chronic lack of essential nutrients. However, 39 million children were overweight.

“The unprecedented scale of the malnutrition crisis demands an unprecedented response,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in the press release. “We must double our efforts 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 so many children’s lives and futures at stake, this is the time to step up our ambition for child nutrition – and we have no time to waste.”

The future picture does not look pretty either. The report projects that nearly 670 million people, or 8 percent of the world population, will continue to experience hunger in 2030.

“There is a real danger these numbers will climb even higher in the months ahead,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley said. “The global price spikes in food, fuel and fertilizers that we are seeing as a result of the crisis in Ukraine threaten to push countries around the world into famine. The result will be global destabilization, starvation, and mass migration on an unprecedented scale. We have to act today to avert this looming catastrophe.”

Along with the publication of the report, war continues in Ukraine, where two of the world’s biggest producers of staple cereals, oilseeds and fertilizer are disrupted by international supply chain challenges and increased prices.

“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 wrote in the report’s Foreword this year. “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.”

Evidence suggests that repurpose of resources by governments repurpose could incentivize the production, supply and consumption of nutritious foods, and contribute to making healthy diets less costly, more affordable and equitable for all. The report also highlights the fact that governments could do more to reduce trade barriers for nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables and pulses.

“Every year, 11 million people die due to unhealthy diets. Rising food prices mean this will only get worse,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “WHO supports countries’ efforts to improve food systems through 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, to fight hunger and malnutrition, and to ensure that food is a source of health for all.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.