The number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021, according to a new UN report that provides fresh evidence that the world is moving in reverse, away from the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms, by 2030, when the SDGs are supposed to be realized.

That represents an increase of about 46 million since 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the world’s economy into a downward spiral, and 150 million more since 2019.

The 2022 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report presents updates on the food security and nutrition situation around the world, including the latest estimates of the cost and affordability of a healthy diet.

It also examines ways governments can repurpose their current support to agriculture to help make healthy and nutritious food cheaper, mindful of the limited public resources available in many parts of the world.

The report is a joint publication by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The numbers tell a grim story

  • As many as 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021 – 46 million people more from a year earlier and 150 million more from 2019.
  • After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger jumped in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021, to 9.8 percent of the world population. This compares with 8 percent in 2019 and 9.3 percent in 2020.
  • Around 2.3 billion people in the world (29.3 percent) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021 – 350 million more compared to before the outbreak of the pandemic. Nearly 924 million people faced food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 207 million in two years.
  • The gender gap in food insecurity continued to rise in 2021 – 31.9 percent of women in the world were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6 percent of men – a gap of more than 4 percentage points, compared with 3 percentage points in 2020.
  • Almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019, reflecting the effects of inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it. 
  • An estimated 45 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition, which increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times. Another 149 million children under the age of five had stunted growth and development due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diets, while 39 million were overweight.

Act today

WFP chief David Beasley, said there was “a real danger these numbers will climb even higher in the months ahead.”

The food, fuel and fertilizers crisis heightened by the war in Ukraine, could lead to famine, and result in “global destabilization, starvation, and mass migration on an unprecedented scale. We have to act today to avert this looming catastrophe.”

WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that each year, 11 million people died due to unhealthy diets.

“Rising food prices mean this will only get worse.  WHO supports countries’ efforts to improve food systems through taxing unhealthy foods and subsidising healthy options, protecting children from harmful marketing, and ensuring clear nutrition labels.”

Government action

The evidence suggests that if governments repurpose the resources being used to incentivize the production, supply and consumption of nutritious foods, they will contribute to making healthy diets less costly, more affordable and equitably for all, according to the SOFI report.

It also calls on governments to do more to reduce trade barriers, which would help lower the price of nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables and pulses.

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