Under the Shadow of the Pandemic: The Number of Hungry People Continued to Rise in 2020


The number of people in the world affected by hunger continued to increase in 2020 under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, says the annual UN report – The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World – published on Monday.

According to the report, “Even in Northern America and Europe, where the lowest rates of food insecurity are found, the prevalence of food insecurity increased for the first time since the beginning of Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) data collection in 2014.”

The report said:

After remaining virtually unchanged from 2014 to 2019, the Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU) increased from 8.4 percent to around 9.9 percent between 2019 and 2020, heightening the challenge of achieving the Zero Hunger target in 2030. The 2020 estimate ranges from 9.2 to 10.4 percent, depending on the assumptions made to reflect the uncertainties around the assessment.

The report said:

In terms of population, it is estimated that between 720 and 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020. Considering the middle of the projected range (768 million), 118 million more people were facing hunger in 2020 than in 2019, with estimates ranging from 70 to 161 million.

The report also said:

The numbers of the hungry people show enduring and troubling regional inequalities. About one in five people (21 percent of the population) was facing hunger in Africa in 2020 – more than double the proportion of any other region. This represents an increase of 3 percentage points in one year. This is followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (9.1 percent) and Asia (9.0 percent), with increases of 2.0 and 1.1 percentage points, respectively, between 2019 and 2020.

The report has revealed how the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated world hunger, raising concerns that the organization’s goal of ensuring no one is starving by 2030 is now unattainable.

The report illustrates how the Covid crisis has exacerbated world hunger, estimating that a tenth of the global population was malnourished in 2020.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, the report’s authors noted.

Disparities in access to food were also prevalent between different genders and age groups, with women facing severe hunger more often than men last year. The UN report estimated that over 149 million children around the world aged under five suffered stunted growth last year due to malnutrition.

The UN had previously set a goal to eradicate world hunger by 2030; however, the statistics from the organization’s latest report indicate that the pandemic has scuppered most chances of ending food insecurity within the next decade.

The authors gave the somber message that the Covid pandemic has created an economic recession comparable to the fall-out from the Second World War, and called for immediate action from policy makers to rectify the situation through combating poverty and offering humanitarian aid in conflict areas.

Although the UN report largely focuses on the immediate repercussions of the pandemic on nutrition, it also warned that the consequences of the Covid crisis will negatively impact people and their access to food for years to come, with 660 million expected to face hunger in 2030.

This report presents the first global assessment of food insecurity and malnutrition for 2020 and offers some indication of what hunger might look like by 2030, in a scenario further complicated by the enduring effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also includes new estimates of the cost and affordability of healthy diets, which provide an important link between the food security and nutrition indicators and the analysis of their trends.

Altogether, the report highlights the need for a deeper reflection on how to better address the global food security and nutrition situation.

The report proposes transformative pathways that specifically address the challenges posed by the major drivers, also highlighting the types of policy and investment portfolios required to transform food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all.

The report observes that, while the pandemic has caused major setbacks, there is much to be learned from the vulnerabilities and inequalities it laid bare.

The report said:

  • Of the total number of undernourished people in 2020 (768 million), more than half (418 million) live in Asia and more than one-third (282 million) in Africa, while Latin America and the Caribbean accounts for about 8 percent (60 million). Compared with 2019, 46 million more people in Africa, almost 57 million more in Asia, and about 14 million more in Latin America and the Caribbean were affected by hunger in 2020.
  • Moderate or severe food insecurity (based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale) at the global level has been slowly on the rise, from 22.6 percent in 2014 to 26.6 percent in 2019. Then in 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, it rose nearly as much as in the previous five years combined, to 30.4 percent. Thus, nearly one in three people in the world did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of 320 million people in just one year, from 2.05 to 2.37 billion. Nearly 40 percent of those people – 11.9 percent of the global population, or almost 928 million – faced food insecurity at severe levels. Close to 148 million more people were severely food insecure in 2020 than in 2019.
  • The increases in moderate or severe food insecurity from 2019 to 2020 were sharpest in Latin America and the Caribbean (9 percentage points) and Africa (5.4 percentage points), compared with a 3.1-point increase in Asia.
  • At the global level, the gender gap in the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity has grown even larger in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity being 10 percent higher among women than men in 2020, compared with 6 percent in 2019.
  • Tracking the cost and the number of people who cannot afford a healthy diet provides valuable metrics to better understand the link between these important determinants of access to food and the trends in the multiple forms of malnutrition. As a result of the high cost of healthy diets, coupled with persistent high levels of income inequality, it is estimated that around 3 billion people were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2019. Most of these people live in Asia (1.85 billion) and Africa (1.0 billion), although a healthy diet is also out of reach for millions living in Latin America and the Caribbean (113 million) and Northern America and Europe (17.3 million).


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