Covid-19 could push over 130 million people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020: UN report

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on July 14, 2020 Published on July 14, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic could push over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report.

The report is produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 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).

According to the report, “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.”

Per estimates, the economic recession triggered by the pandemic could lead to a minimum 83 million people being pushed into chronic hunger. The number is estimated to be 132 million in a worst-case scenario.

The report said over 690 million people went hungry in 2019 – up by 10 million from 2018.

Asia, Africa worst hit

The hungry are most numerous in Asia but expanding fastest in Africa. Across the planet, the report forecasts, Asia tops the list with 381 million undernourished people followed by Africa with 250 million. Latin America and the Caribbean have 48 million undernourished people.

“The global prevalence of undernourishment – or overall percentage of hungry people – has changed little at 8.9 per cent, 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,” the report said.

“Africa is the hardest hit region and becoming more so, with 19.1 per cent of its people undernourished. This is more than double the rate in Asia (8.3 per cent) and in Latin America and the Caribbean (7.4 per cent). On current trends, by 2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the world’s chronically hungry,” it said.

High costs, low affordability

The primary threats to food security leading to chronic hunger are high costs and low affordability.

Per the report, a healthy diet costs way more than $1.90/day, the international poverty threshold.

At this rate, even the least expensive healthy meal comes at five times the price of filling stomachs with starch only.

The most expensive food groups across the globe are nutrient-rich dairy, fruits, vegetables and protein-rich foods (plant and animal-sourced).

Per the estimates, 3 billion people or more cannot afford a healthy diet. 57 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia cannot afford a healthy meal.

Policy changes

The report emphasises the “transformation of food systems to reduce the cost of nutritious foods and increase the affordability of healthy diets.”

“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,” it said.

The organisations have urged governments to mainstream nutrition in their approaches to agriculture. Policies should aim at reducing cost-escalating factors in production, storage, transport, distribution and marketing of food.

Food loss and waste must also be decreased. Local small scale producers can grow and sell more nutritious foods at an affordable rate with proper support as per the report.

Furthermore, a behaviour change through education and communication must be fostered.

“Investments in Covid-19 response and recovery need to help deliver on our longer-term goal of a more inclusive and sustainable world. We must make food systems more sustainable, resilient and inclusive — for people and planet,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

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Published on July 14, 2020
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