New evidence by the United Nations shows that the number of the hungry people worldwide has grown for the third consecutive year, reaching 821 million people or one in every nine person hungry in 2017, putting at risk the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report 2018 released by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Tuesday, also warned there was not enough progress in addressing the multiple forms of malnutrition, ranging from child stunting to adult obesity, putting the health of hundreds of millions of people at risk.
FAO’s annual hunger report indicated a worsening situation in South America and most regions of Africa, while the decreasing trend in undernourishment that characterized Asia seems to be slowing down significantly. Asia accounted for 515 million, Africa 256.5 million and Latin and America and the Carribean 39 million hungry people.
2017 was the third year in a row that global hunger levels have increased, following a decade of declines.
The report found that climate variability affecting rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, and climate extremes such as droughts and floods, are among the key drivers behind the rise in hunger, together with conflict and economic slowdowns.
“If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems and people’s livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes,” the heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) urged in their joint foreword to the report.
Impact of climate extremes
Changes in climate are already undermining production of major crops such as wheat, rice and maize in tropical and temperate regions and, without building climate resilience, this is expected to worsen as temperatures increase and become more extreme.
The report shows that the prevalence and number of undernourished people tend to be higher in countries highly exposed to climate extremes.
The FAO report shows poor progress in reducing child stunting, with 15.8 million children aged under 5 (or 22%) too short for their age due to malnutrition in 2017, compared to 165 million (25%) in 2012. Globally, Africa and Asia accounted for 39 percent and 55 percent of all stunted children, respectively.
At the same time, over 38 million children under five are overweight.
There are 50.5 million children (7.5%) under 5 affected by wasting (low weight-for-height). The rrevalence remains extremely high in Asia affecting one in 10 children, compared to just one in 100 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The report describes as “shameful” the fact that 32.8%, or 1 in 3 women of reproductive age globally is affected by anaemia. This has significant health and development consequences for both women and their children.
No region has shown a decline in anaemia among women of reproductive age, and the prevalence in Africa and Asia is nearly three times higher than in North America.
Rates of exclusive breastfeeding in Africa and Asia are 1.5 times higher than those in North America where only 26 percent of infants under six months receive breastmilk exclusively.
Adult obesity and undernutrition
Adult obesity is worsening with 672 million, or more than 1 in 8 adults obese today. The problem is most significant in North America, but Africa and Asia are also experiencing an upward trend, the report shows.
Undernutrition and obesity coexist in many countries, and can even be seen side by side in the same household. Poor access to nutritious food due to its higher cost, the stress of living with food insecurity, and physiological adaptations to food deprivation help explain why food-insecure families may have a higher risk of overweight and obesity.
Call to action
Among the remedies suggested by the FAO hunger report is a call for greater efforts to build climate resilience through policies that promote climate change adaptation and mitigation, and disaster risk reduction