In 2020, rise in number of those affected by chronic hunger was more than last 5 years combined

The report underlines the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and conflicts as the major reasons for rising hunger in the world. It asks countries to increase social spending, end conflicts, and transform agriculture to let people grow what they can eat

July 13, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
SOFI report Hunger
(Photo: FAO/Fredrik Lerneryd)

In 2020, a year when the world saw an unprecedented surge in the number of millionaires, the number of people affected by chronic hunger increased more than the last five years combined, taking the total number of hungry to over 720 million. The data was revealed by a multi-agency report published by the United Nations on Monday, July 12.

The report titled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 (SOFI) is a combined effort of five UN agencies: World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). It was launched on Monday virtually. It is the first comprehensive evidence-based assessment of global food insecurity since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. 

According to the assessment, around 10% of the global population – around 720 million to 811 million – was affected by undernourishment last year. Out of these, more than half (around 418 million) were in Asia and 282 million in Africa. The share of Latin America is 60 million. The number of hungry people increased by 118 million in 2020 in comparison to 2019. 

The report also mentions that last year, at least 2.4 billion – more than one third of the world’s population – did not have access to sufficiently nutritious food. The report notes that this is an increase of over 320 million in absolute numbers in comparison to 2019. 

The report indicates that given the rate of increase in numbers, it will be very difficult for the world to achieve its target to end hunger by 2030 – a key target under the sustainable development goals of the UN adopted in 2015. In fact, if the numbers remain the same, there will be more than 660 million hungry in the world in 2030, the report estimates.   

Coronavirus, climate change and conflicts

Though the pandemic is the immediate reason behind the rising hunger and malnutrition last year, the report points out the role of climate change and continuing conflicts around the world as major hurdles in the achievement of the goal of zero hunger. Lack of food grain production as countries prefer to grow cash crops and rising cases of natural calamities cause price rise which makes nutritious food inaccessible for the poor. 

The report recommends that states increase social expenditure and tackle poverty in order to improve nutrition levels. It also asks governments to transform agriculture in their countries so that people can grow what they can eat. It emphasizes the need to de-escalate conflicts around the world as this remains one of the main reasons for rising food prices and lack of supplies to a large part of the world.    

The report highlights that because of the shutting down of schools in various countries for prolonged periods last year, at least 370 million children missed out on school meals. This was one of the major reasons for the rise in malnutrition last year. The report urges the countries to restore school meal programs as soon as possible and if possible, adopt a better one with the objective of giving “children and communities a future.”

Hunger and malnutrition have been rising since the 2010s after recording a fall in numbers in decades before that. The reason behind the rise in the number of hungry is attributed to failures of the neoliberal economic policies adopted by the majority of the states, which has led them to withdraw from social sectors, increased poverty and inequality, and seen a rise in conflicts around the world.