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Jul 13

As more go hungry and malnutrition persists, achieving Zero Hunger by 2030 in doubt, UN report warns – World Health Organization

Writing in the foreword, the heads of the five agencies warn that five years after the world committed to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, we are still off track to achieve this objective by 2030".

The hunger numbers explained

In this edition, critical data updates for China and other populous countriesii have led to a substantial cut in estimates of the global number of hungry people, to the current 690 million. Nevertheless, there has been no change in the trend. Revising the entire hunger series back to the year 2000 yields the same conclusion: after steadily diminishing for decades, chronic hunger slowly began to rise in 2014 and continues to do so.

Asia remains home to the greatest number of undernourished (381 million). Africa is second (250 million), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (48 million). The global prevalence of undernourishment or overall percentage of hungry people has changed little at 8.9 percent, but the absolute numbers have been rising since 2014. This means that over the last five years, hunger has grown in step with the global population.

This, in turn, hides great regional disparities: in percentage terms, Africa is the hardest hit region and becoming more so, with 19.1 percent of its people undernourished. This is more than double therate in Asia (8.3 percent) and in Latin America and the Caribbean (7.4 percent). On current trends, by2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the worlds chronically hungry.

As progress in fighting hunger stalls, the COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying the vulnerabilities andinadequacies of global food systems understood as all the activities and processes affecting theproduction, distribution and consumption of food. While it is too soon to assess the full impact ofthe lockdowns and other containment measures, the report estimates that at a minimum, another83 million people, and possibly as many as 132 million, may go hungry in 2020 as a result of theeconomic recession triggered by COVID-19.iii The setback throws into further doubt the achievementof Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger).

Overcoming hunger and malnutrition in all its forms (including undernutrition, micronutrientdeficiencies, overweight and obesity) is about more than securing enough food to survive: whatpeople eat and especially what children eat must also be nutritious. Yet a key obstacle is thehigh cost of nutritious foods and the low affordability of healthy diets for vast numbers of families.

The report presents evidence that a healthy diet costs far more than US$ 1.90/day, the internationalpoverty threshold. It puts the price of even the least expensive healthy diet at five times the price offilling stomachs with starch only. Nutrient-rich dairy, fruits, vegetables and protein-rich foods (plantand animal-sourced) are the most expensive food groups globally.

The latest estimates are that a staggering 3 billion people or more cannot afford a healthy diet. Insub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, this is the case for 57 percent of the population though noregion, including North America and Europe, is spared. Partly as a result, the race to endmalnutrition appears compromised. According to the report, in 2019, between a quarter and a thirdof children under five (191 million) were stunted or wasted too short or too thin. Another 38million under-fives were overweight. Among adults, meanwhile, obesity has become a globalpandemic in its own right.

A call to action

The report argues that once sustainability considerations are factored in, a global switch to healthydiets would help check the backslide into hunger while delivering enormous savings. It calculatesthat such a shift would allow the health costs associated with unhealthy diets, estimated to reachUS$ 1.3 trillion a year in 2030, to be almost entirely offset; while the diet-related social cost ofgreenhouse gas emissions, estimated at US$ 1.7 trillion, could be cut by up to three-quarters.ivThe report urges a transformation of food systems to reduce the cost of nutritious foods and

increase the affordability of healthy diets. While the specific solutions will differ from country tocountry, and even within them, the overall answers lie with interventions along the entire foodsupply chain, in the food environment, and in the political economy that shapes trade, publicexpenditure and investment policies. The study calls on governments to mainstream nutrition intheir approaches to agriculture; work to cut cost-escalating factors in the production, storage,

transport, distribution and marketing of food including by reducing inefficiencies and food loss andwaste; support local small-scale producers to grow and sell more nutritious foods, and secure theiraccess to markets; prioritize childrens nutrition as the category in greatest need; foster behaviourchange through education and communication; and embed nutrition in national social protectionsystems and investment strategies.

The heads of the five UN agencies behind the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the Worlddeclare their commitment to support this momentous shift, ensuring that it unfolds in a sustainableway, for people and the planet.

Media contacts for interview requests (several languages are covered):

FAO Andre VORNIC, +39 345 870 6985,

IFAD Antonia PARADELA, +34 605 398 109,

UNICEF Sabrina SIDHU, +1 917 476 1537,

WFP Martin PENNER, +39 345 614 2074,

WHO Fadela CHAIB, +41 79 475 5556,


i For FAO Qu Dongyu, Director-General; for IFAD Gilbert F. Houngbo, President; for UNICEF Henrietta H.Fore, Executive Director; for WFP David Beasley, Executive Director; for WHO Tedros AdhanomGhebreyesus, Director-General.

ii Updates to a key parameter, which measures inequality in food consumption within societies, have beenmade for 13 countries whose combined population approaches 2.5 billion people: Bangladesh, China,Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Sudan and Thailand. Thesize of Chinas population, in particular, has had the single largest impact on global numbers.

iii This range corresponds to the most recent expectations of a 4.9 to 10 percent drop in global GDP.

iv The report analyses the hidden costs of unhealthy diets and models options involving four alternative

diets: flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan. It also acknowledges that some poorer countries carbon

emissions may initially need to rise to allow them to reach nutrition targets. (The opposite is true of richer

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As more go hungry and malnutrition persists, achieving Zero Hunger by 2030 in doubt, UN report warns - World Health Organization

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