"For the third consecutive year there is bad news" for Latin America and the Caribbean, where hunger figures increased and "it affects 39.3 million people", 6.1 percent of its population, he summarized with regret this Wednesday 7 Julio Berdegué, Regional Representative of FAO.
Berdegué presented at the regional headquarters of the organization in Santiago the conclusions of the Panorama of Food and Nutritional Security 2018, which brings more bad news: malnutrition and obesity also grew, in a situation closely linked to the persistence of inequality in the countries region of.
The document was jointly prepared by the regional division of four UN agencies: FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the United Nations Fund for Childhood (Unicef), and the World Food Program (WFP).
The four organizations called on the governments of the region to implement public policies that combat inequality and promote healthy and sustainable food systems.
“There is no material or scientific reason that justifies hunger. We completed five years without progress and three in retreat. We make an alert call to governments and societies, ”Berdegué stressed during the presentation.
The regional representative highlighted the case of Colombia where "peace begins to pay dividends in the eradication of hunger", referring to the positive effects of the agreements reached between the government and the guerrillas in 2016.
At the other extreme appears Venezuela, which became one of the countries with the highest number of people who suffer from hunger: 3.7 million people who are 11.7 percent of its population.
Since 2014, Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela have increased the number of undernourished people. The greatest suddenness occurred in Venezuela with an increase of 600,000 people, only between the 2014-2016 and 2015-2017 triennia, reveals the Panorama.
Other countries highly affected by hunger are Haiti, with five million people, equivalent to 45.7 percent of its population, and Mexico with 4.8 million, representing 3.8 percent of its population.
However, in both Haiti and Mexico, hunger declined in the last three years. The same in Colombia and the Dominican Republic. These are the only four countries in the region that have achieved a reduction since 2014.
"If Haiti can do it (reduce hunger), all other countries can," Berdegué said emphatically.
According to the Panorama, the speed of hunger in the region increased because between 2015 and 2016 the number of undernourished grew by 200,000, but between 2016 and 2017, it doubled: 400,000 people.
For Berdegué, the numbers are dramatic because “it is not about being closer to the goal of zero hunger (by 2030). The objective is not a few less hungry people ”, who stressed that this is a food producing and exporting region, where“ there is no shortage of food, what is lacking is money to buy it ”.
He added that serious food insecurity affects 47.1 million Latin Americans and Caribbean people and “the worst thing is that most of them live in South America, the richest part of the region. How is it possible that 62 percent of the hunger problem is in South America? He wondered.
The document establishes a close link between economic and social inequality and higher levels of hunger, obesity and malnutrition in populations.
Five million children suffer from hunger "and the serious problem is that they belong to the poorest quintiles and live a sentence of a very limited life," said Berdegué.
He specified that the four UN agencies (United Nations Organization) established a correlation between hunger and belonging to some ethnic groups.
"In Peru, 25 percent of Quechua children and 23 percent of Aymara children suffer from chronic malnutrition, while at the national level it is 16 percent," he exemplified.
At the same time, each year there are 3.6 million obese people and today one in four adults in the region is obese. Some 250 million live overweight, 60 percent of the regional population.
Overweight affects 3.9 million children under the age of five, a figure that exceeds the world average of 5.6 percent, the report indicates.
“It is a runaway epidemic and out of control. We have never eaten so bad. It is necessary to change the axis towards a healthy and nutritious diet ”, underlined Berdegué.
He added that 18 countries in the region produce fruits and vegetables, but export them.
“It is essential to regulate fats and salts in food. There are many people who cannot afford to eat healthy. School curricula must include healthy and healthy eating, ”Berdegué listed when proposing possible solutions to face the epidemic.
Carissa F. Etienne, PAHO Director, asserted that "although malnutrition persists in the region, particularly in vulnerable populations, obesity and overweight are also added, affecting these groups in a particular way."
"A multisectoral approach is necessary, ranging from ensuring access to balanced and healthy food to addressing other social factors that also impact on these forms of malnutrition, such as access to education, water and sanitation and health services", it indicated in a connection from its headquarters in Washington.
In his opinion, "we must advance in access to universal health so that all people can receive the care and prevention measures they need due to issues of malnutrition and its long-term consequences."
The Panorama summarizes that hunger, malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity affect people with lower incomes, women, indigenous people, Afro-descendants and rural families in the region the most.
In Latin America 8.4 percent of women are severely food insecure, compared to 6.9 percent of men, and indigenous populations are more food insecure than non-indigenous populations.
In 10 of their countries, 20 percent of the poorest children suffer three times more from chronic malnutrition than the richest 20 percent.
According to the Panorama, one of the main causes of the rise in malnutrition in particularly vulnerable population groups is the changes that the region's food systems have undergone and the cycle of food from production to consumption.
The greatest effects are produced in the most excluded sectors that, although they have increased their consumption of healthy foods such as milk and meat, many times must opt for products with a high content of fat, sugar and salt, because they have lower cost.
Regarding the gender division, the Panorama indicates that 19 million women are severely food insecure, compared to 15 million men.
In all countries, the obesity rate of adult women is higher than that of men; in 19 of them, the female obesity rate is at least 10 percentage points higher than that of men.
“Gender equity is a valuable policy instrument to reduce inequalities. We need to strengthen it in practice, which involves promoting equality in access to and control of household resources, as well as in decisions to empower women in inequality, ”said Miguel Barreto, WFP regional director, from Panama City .
By Orlando Milesi
Edition: Estrella Gutiérrez