July 13, 2021: About a tenth of the local population, or 811 million people, were undernourished during the pandemic year, 2020, according to the WHO.
The world is at a “critical juncture” and it will take a tremendous global effort to honor the pledge to end hunger by 2030, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, the first global assessment of its kind in the pandemic era, that started in late 2019.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” the heads of five UN agencies stated in the 2021 report.
“This year offers a unique opportunity for advancing food security and nutrition through transforming food systems with the upcoming UN Food Systems, Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit, and the COP26 on climate change.” “The outcome of these events,” the five added, “will go on to shape the […] second half of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition” — a global policy commitment yet to hit its stride.
The report was jointly published 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).
Children at stake
Previous editions had put the world on alert that the food security of millions — many children among them –- was at stake.
In the mid-2010s, hunger had started creeping upwards, dashing hopes of irreversible decline. Disturbingly, in 2020 hunger shot up in both absolute and proportional terms, outpacing population growth: some 9.9% of all people are estimated to have been undernourished last year, up from 8.4% in 2019.
More than half of all undernourished people (418 million) live in Asia; more than a third (282 million) in Africa; and a smaller proportion (60 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the sharp rise in hunger was in Africa, where the estimated prevalence of undernourishment – at 21% of the population -– is more than double that of any other region.
More than 2.3 billion people (or 30% of the global population) lacked year-round access to adequate food in 2020. This indicator -– known as the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity -– leaped in one year as much as the preceding five combined.
Gender inequality deepened. For every 10 food-insecure men, there were 11 food-insecure women in 2020 (up from 10.6 in 2019).
Malnutrition persisted in all its forms, with children paying a high price: in 2020, over 149 million under-fives are estimated to have been stunted, or too short for their age; more than 45 million –- wasted, or too thin for their height; and nearly 39 million –- overweight.
Three billion adults and children remained locked out of healthy diets, largely due to excessive costs. Nearly a third of women of reproductive age suffer from anemia. Globally, despite progress in some areas –- more infants, for example, are being fed exclusively on breast milk -– the world is not on track to achieve targets for any nutrition indicators by 2030.
In many parts of the world, the pandemic triggered brutal recessions and jeopardized access to food. Yet even before the pandemic, hunger was spreading; progress on malnutrition lagged. This was all the more so in nations affected by conflict, climate extremes or other economic downturns, or battling high inequality.