Well before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, conflict, climate change, and economic inequality had been reversing global progress on world hunger, causing its rise in many parts of the world.
Now, the first major report looking at how the pandemic affected global food security has been released by five United Nations agencies — the Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and the World Health Organization.
Findings from “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021” confirm many analysts’ worst suspicions.
World hunger jumped by an estimated 1.5% in 2020, affecting an estimated 720 million to 811 million people throughout the world due to the varied impacts of the pandemic. Because of widespread economic shutdowns, agricultural production declined in many areas and people lost sources of income that they had relied upon to buy food for their families. At the same time, the ability to access healthy food became more difficult for billions of people worldwide, a form of inequality that particularly harms children.
The report notes that world hunger will be far from eliminated by the end of decade based on current trends, and up to 660 million people may still face undernourishment by 2030.
While the authors acknowledge the extreme difficulty of overcoming this crisis, they try to direct political leaders, humanitarian groups, and the private sector toward effective solutions on the road to eliminating hunger by 2030 as part of the UN’s Global Goals.
“The world is at a critical juncture, not only because we have to overcome more significant challenges to ending hunger, food insecurity, and all forms of malnutrition, but also because, with the fragility of our food systems widely exposed, we have an opportunity to build forward better and get on track towards achieving SDG 2,” the report’s authors wrote in the foreword. “The UN Food Systems Summit, to be held later this year, will bring forward a series of concrete actions that people, food system actors, and governments from all over the world can take to support a transformation of the world’s food systems.”
Here are six major findings from the report — and you can start taking action to help reduce hunger right now by supporting the Global Citizen Live campaign in its mission to defeat poverty and defend the planet. Find out more here.
1. Asia accounts for half of the world's undernourished people in absolute numbers.
An estimated 418 million people in Asia were undernourished in 2020, according to the report. The highest rate of hunger in Asia occurred in southern countries such as India and Pakistan, where roughly 48% of people faced moderate or severe food insecurity, followed by western countries such as Iraq and Yemen, where 28% of people fell into this category.
2. Africa has the highest rate of people living with hunger.
Roughly 21% of Africa’s population faced hunger in 2020, a rate that’s double the proportion in any other region. Roughly 66% of people in sub-Saharan Africa faced moderate to severe food insecurity, with high rates of hunger appearing in Somalia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
3. Moderate to severe food insecurity exploded in 2020.
Nearly 1 in 3 people worldwide — or 2.37 billion people — faced moderate to severe food insecurity last year, an increase of nearly 320 million. Moderate food insecurity encompasses people who are unable to regularly afford healthy, nutritious diets and those who often struggle to meet their caloric needs. Severe food insecurity, on the other hand, means a person is often unable to afford or access a meal.
4. The gender gap of hunger grew in 2020.
Worldwide, women are 10% more likely to experience hunger than men, according to the report. This disparity is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding, because it can lead to health complications such as stunting (abnormally below average height) and wasting (abnormally below average weight) in their children.
5. Childhood malnutrition remains high.
An estimated 149.2 million children under the age of 5 were stunted in 2020, while 45.4 million were wasted — two health problems that can lead to lifelong health and developmental complications.
6. The pandemic likely prevented more people from accessing healthy food.
While precise data is yet to arrive, the report notes that the global inability of people to afford healthy food likely increased in 2020 due to widespread economic disruptions as a result of the impacts of COVID-19.
You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defeat poverty and defend the planet by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.