AROUND the world, hunger remains “deeply entrenched and rising”, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has said. He was speaking on Monday at the virtual launch of the UN’s annual food security update report, State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, which says that tens of millions of people have become chronically undernourished in the past five years.
The report was produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agriculture (IFAD), the UN Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
In 2017, the UN reported that global hunger levels had increased owing to conflict and climate change (News, 22 September 2017), a trend that continued in 2018 (News, 22 September 2018). Mr Guterres warned that, if current trends did not improve, the Sustainable Development Goal 2 — eradicating world hunger, food insecurity, and all forms of malnutrition by 2030 — would be not be reached.
The president of IFAD, Gilbert F. Houngbo, said that the coronavirus pandemic was a “wake-up call”. “We cannot continue thinking of agriculture, the environment, health, poverty, and hunger in isolation. . . World problems are interconnected, and the solutions are intertwined.”
The WHO’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “While it is too soon to assess the full impact of Covid-19, the report estimates that 130 million more people may face chronic hunger by the end of this year.”
The report also highlights how Asia currently has the most undernourished people, 381 million, while the number in Africa is 250 million and is growing. This is followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (48 million). Furthermore, three billion people could not afford a healthy diet, and, in 2019, some 191 million children under five were stunted or wasted — too short or too thin — while another 38 million were overweight.
Malnutrition includes obesity; and the report notes that, while nutrient-rich dairy foods, fruits, and vegetables, as well as protein-rich foods, are essential to a healthy diet, they are the most expensive food groups globally, costing far more than $1.90 a day, which is the international poverty threshold. But, the report says, securing healthy diets for people who do not have enough money would help to prevent hunger while saving $1.3 trillion in global health costs by 2030.
The executive director of the WFP, David Beasley, insisted that “despite Covid-19, conflicts, weather extremes, and desert locusts, we have enough wealth in the world to feed everybody.”
“The problem is not production,” Mr Houngbo said. “Persistent and chronic hunger is the result of poverty, inequality, conflict, poor governance, and marginalisation of the most vulnerable.”