Hunger in the world: the grim UN scenario facing the Covid-19 crisis

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Almost one in nine humans were chronically undernourished in 2019. And this already dramatic finding is expected to worsen due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the UN annual report released on Monday.

According to the latest estimates, last year the plague affected around 690 million people, or 8.9% of the world’s population. This is 10 million more people than in 2018 and 60 million more than in 2014.

“If the trend continues, it is estimated that by 2030, this number will exceed 840 million people. It clearly means that the goal (to eradicate hunger by 2030, established by the UN in 2015, editor’s note) is not on track to be achieved, “said Thibault Meilland, policy analyst at within FAO.

And that was without taking into account the health and economic shock caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused cascading loss of income, increased food prices, disrupted supply chains… According to the report, the global recession due to the new coronavirus is likely to drive an additional 83 to 132 million people into hunger. “These are still relatively conservative assumptions, the situation is evolving,” says Meilland.

The estimate of undernourishment in the world is much lower than in previous editions: last year’s report mentioned more than 820 million hungry people. But the figures cannot be compared: the integration of newly accessible data – in particular from surveys carried out by China among households in the country – has led to the revision of all estimates since 2000. “It is not not a drop (in the number of people suffering from undernourishment), it is a revision. Everything has been recalculated on the basis of these new figures, ”insists Meilland.

The cost of poor nutrition

Among the areas for improvement, the prevalence of stunting among five-year-olds fell by a third between 2000 and 2019, with around 21% of children affected worldwide today. Over 90% of them live in Asia or Africa.

Beyond undernutrition, the report points out that a growing number of people “have had to reduce the quantity and quality of the food they eat”. Two billion people thus suffer from “food insecurity”, that is to say that they do not regularly have access to nutritious food in sufficient quality and quantity. Even more (3 billion) do not have the means to afford a diet considered to be balanced, with in particular sufficient intakes of fruits and vegetables. “On average, a healthy diet costs five times more than a diet that only meets energy needs with basic starchy foods,” reports Meilland. Corollary: obesity is increasing in both adults and children.

Specialized UN agencies estimate that if food consumption patterns do not change, their impact on direct healthcare costs and loss of economic productivity should reach 1300 billion dollars (1144 billion euros at current prices) per year by 2030.


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