UN Report Raises Red Flag as 690 Million People Estimated Went Hungry in 2019


By Momodou Jarju

The United Nations (UN) has raised a red flag on the rise in global hunger as new report indicated that more people go hungry every year, a record that could impede the accomplishment of Zero Hunger by 2030 target.

The study “estimates that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 – up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years.”

The report, which is an annual study and was released on Monday 13 July, 2020, is called the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World- is the most authoritative global study tracking progress towards ending hunger and malnutrition.

The study is jointly produced by five UN agencies, namely, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The study found that tens of millions have joined the ranks of the chronically undernourished over the past five years, and countries around the world continue to struggle with multiple forms of malnutrition.

The report shows that high costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthily or nutritiously and that the hungry are most numerous in Asia, but expanding fastest in Africa.

The report shows that: “Asia remains home to the greatest number of undernourished (381 million). Africa is second (250 million), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (48 million). The global prevalence of undernourishment – or overall percentage of hungry people – has changed little at 8.9 percent, but the absolute numbers have been rising since 2014. This means that over the last five years, hunger has grown in step with the global population.”

In percentage terms, Africa is showed to be the hardest hit region and becoming more so, with 19.1 percent of its people undernourished.

“This is more than double the rate in Asia (8.3 percent) and in Latin America and the Caribbean (7.4 percent). On current trends, by 2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the world’s chronically hungry,” the report added.

The pandemic’s toll

The report has also forecasted that globally, the COVID-19 pandemic could tip over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020.

The report said while it is too soon to assess the full impact of the lockdowns and other containment measures, it is estimated that at a minimum, another 83 million people, and possibly as many as 132 million, may go hungry in 2020 as a result of the economic recession triggered by COVID-19.

“As progress in fighting hunger stalls, the COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems – understood as all the activities and processes affecting the production, distribution and consumption of food.”

“The setback throws into further doubt the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger),” the report shows.

Unhealthy diets, food insecurity and malnutrition

The report shows that the high cost of nutritious foods and the low affordability of healthy diets for vast numbers of families is a key obstacle.

It presents evidence that a healthy diet costs far more than US$ 1.90/day, the international poverty threshold, while putting the price of even the least expensive healthy diet at five times the price of filling stomachs with starch only.

Nutrient-rich dairy, fruits, vegetables and protein-rich foods (plant and animal-sourced) are the most expensive food groups globally, the report said.

Also, the report’s latest estimates are that a staggering 3 billion people or more cannot afford a healthy diet.

“In sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, this is the case for 57 percent of the population – though no region, including North America and Europe, is spared. Partly as a result, the race to end malnutrition appears compromised. According to the report, in 2019, between a quarter and a third of children under five (191 million) were stunted or wasted – too short or too thin. Another 38 million under-fives were overweight. Among adults, meanwhile, obesity has become a global pandemic in its own right,” it shows.

A call to action

The report argues that once sustainability considerations are factored in, a global switch to healthy diets would help check the regress into hunger, while delivering enormous savings.

It calculates that such a shift would allow the health costs associated with unhealthy diets, estimated to reach US$ 1.3 trillion a year in 2030, to be almost entirely offset; while the diet-related social cost of greenhouse gas emissions, estimated at US$ 1.7 trillion, could be cut by up to three-quarters.

It urges a transformation of food systems to reduce the cost of nutritious foods and increase the affordability of healthy diets.

“While the specific solutions will differ from country to country, and even within them, the overall answers lie with interventions along the entire food supply chain, in the food environment, and in the political economy that shapes trade, public expenditure and investment policies, the report shows”

The study calls on governments to mainstream nutrition in their approaches to agriculture as well as work to cut cost-escalating factors in the production, storage, transport, distribution and marketing of food.

These include reducing inefficiencies and food loss and waste; support local small-scale producers to grow and sell more nutritious foods, and secure their access to markets.

It also calls for prioritizing children’s nutrition as the category in greatest need; foster behaviour change through education and communication; and embed nutrition in national social protection systems and investment strategies.

The heads of the five UN agencies behind the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World declare their commitment to support this momentous shift, ensuring that it unfolds “in a sustainable way, for people and the planet.”