The number of people affected by hunger globally grew to as many as 828 million in 2021, swelling by about 46 million from 2020 and 150 million from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, a United Nations report said Wednesday, Anadolu News Agency reports.
The UN report shows the world is moving further away from its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.
Cindy Hollerman, a Food and Agricultural Organisation economist and editor of the report, said at a UN press conference in Geneva it is “dismaying” to see an upswing in hunger and worrying to see the trends.
“We are still seeing hunger rising in 2021 and that is very worrying,” Hollerman said, adding: “Worrying also is the cost of a healthy diet.”
“Increases are sharper, where people were experiencing economic slowdowns with the COVID pandemic, but combined with the other drivers,” she said, citing “conflict or climate factors and high levels of inequality.”
The five UN agencies behind the report said it was being published as war rages in Ukraine, involving two of the biggest global producers of staple cereals, oilseeds and fertiliser, disrupting international supply chains.
They said the Russia-Ukraine war is hiking the prices of grain, fertiliser, energy and ready-to-use therapeutic food for children with severe malnutrition.
“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 agencies’ Heads wrote in this year’s foreword.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report is jointly published by the FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Hunger jumps in 2020
After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger jumped in 2020, and continued to rise in 2021 to 9.8 per cent of the world population.
About 2.3 billion people worldwide (29.3 per cent) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021.
That was 350 million more compared to before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, said the report.
Nearly 924 million people (11.7 per cent of the global population) faced food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 207 million in two years.
The gender gap in food insecurity continued rising in 2021 – 31.9 per cent of women in the world were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6 per cent of men – a gap of more than 4 percentage points, compared with 3 percentage points in 2020.
Almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019, reflecting the effects of inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it.
An estimated 45 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition, which increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times.
Furthermore, 149 million children under five had stunted growth and development due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diets, while 39 million were overweight.
Progress in breastfeeding
The report said there is progress on exclusive breastfeeding, with nearly 44 per cent of infants under six months of age being exclusively breastfed worldwide in 2020.
That number remains short of the 50 per cent target by 2030.
“Of great concern, two in three children are not fed the minimum diverse diet they need to grow and develop to their full potential,” said the report.
The report forecasts that nearly 670 million people (8 per cent of the world population) will still face hunger in 2030 – even if a global economic recovery occurs.
This is similar to 2015, when the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition by the end of this decade was launched under the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development.