821 million people are hungry and more than 150 million children are stunted, jeopardizing the goal of eradicating hunger
The latest data indicates that the number of hungry people in the world continues to increase, reaching 821 million in 2017 - one in nine people - according to the report The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018 presented today. Limited progress is also being made against the multiple forms of malnutrition, ranging from stunted childhood to adult obesity, threatening the health of hundreds of millions of people.
Hunger has increased in the last three years, returning to the levels of a decade ago. This setback sends a clear signal that more needs to be done and more urgently if the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030.
The situation is worsening in South America and most parts of Africa, while the declining trend of undernourishment that characterized Asia appears to be slowing down significantly.
The UN annual report notes that climate variability affecting rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, and extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, are among the main factors behind the rise in hunger, along with conflict and economic crises.
“The alarming signs of increasing food insecurity and high levels of different forms of malnutrition are a clear warning that there is much work to be done to ensure that we do not leave anyone behind on the road to achieving the SDG targets on food security and better nutrition ”, warn in their joint prologue to the report the heads of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Fund United for Children (UNICEF), the World Food Program (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“If we want to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in any of its forms by 2030 - say the five - it is imperative that we accelerate and expand measures to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of the food systems and livelihoods of the population in response to climate variability and extreme weather events ”.
Impact of climate variability and extreme events
Changes in climate are already undermining the production of some major crops such as wheat, rice and maize in tropical and temperate regions, and if climate resilience is not developed, the situation is expected to worsen as temperatures rise and fall. they become more extreme.
The analysis included in the report indicates that the prevalence and number of undernourished people tend to be higher in countries highly exposed to extreme weather events. Undernourishment is also greater when exposure to these extreme events is exacerbated by a high percentage of the population dependent on agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability.
Abnormal temperatures in agricultural areas continued to be higher than the long-term average in 2011-2016, leading to more frequent episodes of extreme heat in the past five years. The nature of the rainy seasons is also changing, with the late or early onset of rainfall and its uneven distribution within the season itself.
Damage to agricultural production contributes to the lack of food availability, with collateral effects that lead to increases in food prices and income losses that reduce the population's access to food.
Slow progress in eliminating all forms of malnutrition
According to the report, little progress has been made in reducing child stunting, with nearly 151 million children under the age of five too short for their age due to malnutrition in 2017, compared to 165 million in 2012. Globally , Africa and Asia had 39 and 55 percent of all children stunted, respectively.
The prevalence of wasting (childhood acute malnutrition) remains extremely high in Asia, where nearly one in 10 children under the age of five is underweight for their height, compared to just one in 100 in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The report describes as “shameful” the fact that one in three women of reproductive age in the world is affected by anemia, which has significant consequences for the health and development of both women and their children. No region has shown a decrease in anemia among women of reproductive age, and the prevalence in Africa and Asia is almost three times higher than in North America.
Exclusive breastfeeding rates in Africa and Asia are 1.5 times higher than in North America, where only 26 percent of infants under six months are exclusively breastfed.
The other side of hunger: obesity increases
Adult obesity is getting worse and more than one in eight adults in the world is obese. The problem is most pressing in North America, but Africa and Asia are also experiencing an upward trend, according to the report.
Undernourishment and obesity coexist in many countries and can even occur together within the same household. Lack of access to nutritious food due to its higher cost, the stresses of living with food insecurity, and physiological adaptations to food deprivation help explain why food insecure families may be at higher risk of being overweight and obese.
Call to action
The report calls for the implementation and scaling up of interventions aimed at ensuring access to nutritious food and breaking the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition. Policies should pay special attention to the groups most vulnerable to the negative consequences of inadequate access to food: infants, children under five, school-age children, adolescent girls and women.
At the same time, a sustainable shift must be made towards nutrition-conscious agriculture and food systems that can provide safe and quality food for all.
The report also calls for greater efforts to build climate resilience through policies that promote climate change adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk reduction.
Key facts and figures
Number of hungry people in the world in 2017: 821 million, 1 in 9 people
in Asia: 515 million
in Africa: 256.5 million
in Latin America and the Caribbean: 39 million
Children under 5 affected by stunting (low height for age): 150.8 million (22.2 percent)
Children under 5 years old affected by wasting (low weight for height): 50.5 million (7.5%)
Overweight children under 5 years old (high weight for height): 38.3 million (5.6%)
Percentage of women of reproductive age affected by anemia: 32.8%
Percentage of infants under 6 months who were exclusively breastfed: 40.7%
Adults who are obese: 672 million (13% or 1 in 8 adults)
The heads of the organizations that have published the report presented today are: José Graziano da Silva, Director General of FAO; Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of IFAD; Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF; David Beasley, Executive Director of WFP; and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
The report is part of tracking progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to eradicate hunger, promote food security and end all forms of malnutrition by 2030. The report also looks at progress in six of the seven World Health Assembly global nutrition targets.
Last year's report noted that there are three factors behind the recent rise in hunger: conflict, climate, and the economic slowdown, and provided an in-depth study of the role of conflict. This year's report focuses on the role of climate variability and extreme events in explaining observed trends in food security.
The attribution of climatic variations and extreme weather events to climate change is outside the scope of this report.