The United Nations on Monday reported a “dramatic worsening” of world hunger, with 720 million to 811 million undernourished people worldwide, largely linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An estimated 9.9% of the global population was undernourished last year, up from 8.4% in 2019, the U.N. report says. About 118 million more people were experiencing hunger in 2020 if considering the middle of the projected range of 768 million undernourished people.
About 418 million, or more than half, of all undernourished people live in Asia; about 282 million people, or a third, live in Africa; and 60 million live in Latin America and the Caribbean. Africa saw the greatest rise in hunger, where an estimated 21% of the population was undernourished — more than double of any other region.
“In many parts of the world, the pandemic has triggered brutal recessions and jeopardized access to food. Yet even before the pandemic, hunger was spreading; progress on malnutrition lagged,” the World Health Organization, which helped publish the report, said in a statement. “Already 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.”
WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the U.N. World Food Programme published the global report, titled “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.”
“The pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, particularly the most vulnerable and those living in fragile contexts,” the agencies said in the report.
The report also found that nearly 2.4 billion people, or 30% of the world’s population, did not have access to enough food year-round, up to about 320 million people in a year. This measurement of moderate or severe food insecurity reportedly climbed in one year as much as it did in the previous five years combined.
About 12% of the world population, or about 928 million people, were considered severely food insecure in 2020, an increase of 148 million people from the previous year.
Last year, more than 149 million children under the age of 5 were too short for their age and more than 45 million were too thin for their height due to malnutrition, the report estimates. Comparatively, nearly 39 million children in that age group were overweight. However, the report says the actual figures could be higher due to the pandemic effects.
Some 370 million children missed out on school meals in 2020 due to school closures during the coronavirus pandemic, U.N. News report. About 150 million children do not have access to a school lunch, said the World Food Programme, insisting that countries resume and improve the programs.
In addition, about 3 billion adults and children are “locked out of healthy diets, largely due to excessive costs,” WHO said.
“Conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic slowdowns and downturns (now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic) are major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition that continue to increase in both frequency and intensity, and are occurring more frequently in combination,” the report says.
Given the state of current trends, officials predict that the goal of reaching zero hunger by 2030 will be missed, with nearly 660 million people undernourished, of which some 30 million might be tied to the pandemic’s long-term effects, the report concludes.