New evidence continues to signal that the number of hungry people in the world is growing
, reaching 821 million in 2017 or one in every nine people, according to “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018” released on 11 Sept.2018. Limited progress is also being made in addressing the multiple forms of malnutrition, ranging from child stunting to adult obesity, putting the health of hundreds of millions of people at risk.
Hunger has been on the rise over the past three years, returning to levels from a decade ago. This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done and urgently if the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030.
The situation is worsening in South America and most regions of Africa, while the decreasing trend in undernourishment that characterized Asia seems to be slowing down significantly.
The annual UN report found that climate variability affecting rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, and climate extremes such as droughts and floods, are among the key drivers behind the rise in hunger, together with conflict and economic slowdowns.
"The alarming signs of increasing food insecurity and high levels of different forms of malnutrition are a clear warning that there is considerable work to be done to make sure we ‘leave no one behind' on the road towards achieving the SDG goals on food security and improved nutrition," the heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in their joint foreword to the report.
"If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems and people's livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes," the leaders said.
Climate variability impact
Changes in climate are already undermining production of major crops such as wheat, rice and maize in tropical and temperate regions and, without building climate resilience, this is expected to worsen as temperatures increase and become more extreme.
Analysis in the report shows that the prevalence and number of undernourished people tend to be higher in countries highly exposed to climate extremes. Undernourishment is higher again when exposure to climate extremes is compounded by a high proportion of the population depending on agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability.
Temperature anomalies over agricultural cropping areas continued to be higher than the long-term mean throughout 2011-2016, leading to more frequent spells of extreme heat in the last five years. The nature of rainfall seasons is also changing, such as the late or early start of rainy seasons and the unequal distribution of rainfall within a season.
The harm to agricultural production contributes to shortfalls in food availability, with knock-on effects causing food price hikes and income losses that reduce people's access to food.
Poor progress has been made in reducing child stunting, the report says, with nearly 151 million children aged under five too short for their age due to malnutrition in 2017, compared to 165 million in 2012. Globally, Africa and Asia accounted for 39 percent and 55 percent of all stunted children, respectively.
The report describes as "shameful" the fact that one in three women of reproductive age globally is affected by anaemia, which has significant health and development consequences for both women and their children. No region has shown a decline in anaemia among women of reproductive age, and the prevalence in Africa and Asia is nearly three times higher than in North America.
The other side of hunger: obesity on the rise
Adult obesity is worsening, and more than one in eight adults in the world is obese. The problem is most significant in North America, but Africa and Asia are also experiencing an upward trend, the report shows.
Undernutrition and obesity coexist in many countries, and can even be seen side by side in the same household. Poor access to nutritious food due to its higher cost, the stress of living with food insecurity, and physiological adaptations to food deprivation help explain why food-insecure families may have a higher risk of overweight and obesity.
In September 2017, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report was launched, marking the beginning of a new era in monitoring progress towards achieving a world without hunger and malnutrition, within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This report monitors progress towards the targets of ending both hunger (SDG Target 2.1) and all forms of malnutrition (SDG Target 2.2), and provides an analysis of the underlying causes and drivers of observed trends. While the prevalence of undernourishment is at the forefront of monitoring hunger, the prevalence of severe food insecurity – based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) – was introduced last year to provide an estimate of the proportion of the population facing serious constraints on their ability to obtain safe, nutritious and sufficient food. The report also tracks progress on a set of indicators used to monitor World Health Assembly global targets for nutrition and diet-related non-communicable diseases, three of which are also indicators of SDG2 targets.
The challenges we face are indeed significant.
Of great concern is the finding last year that, after a prolonged decline, the most recent estimates showed global hunger had increased in 2016. Last year we observed that the failure to reduce world hunger is closely associated with the increase in conflict and violence in several parts of the world, and that efforts to fight hunger must go hand in hand with those to sustain peace. New challenges we face are indeed significant.
Of great concern is the finding last year that, after a prolonged decline, the most recent estimates showed global hunger had increased in 2016. Last year we observed that the failure to reduce world hunger is closely associated with the increase in conflict and violence in several parts of the world, and that efforts to fight hunger must go hand in hand with those to sustain peace. New evidence in this year’s report corroborates the rise in world hunger, thus demanding an even greater call to action. Furthermore, while we must sow the seeds of peace in order to achieve food security, improve nutrition and “leave no one behind”, we also need to redouble efforts to build climate resilience for food security and nutrition.
In 2017, the number of undernourished people is estimated to have reached 821 million – around one person out of every nine in the world. Undernourishment and severe food insecurity appear to be increasing in almost all subregions of Africa, as well as in South America, whereas the undernourishment situation is stable in most regions of Asia.
A more encouraging finding last year was that the rising trend in undernourishment had not yet been reflected in rates of child stunting; this continues to be the case this year. Nonetheless, we are concerned that in 2017, nearly 151 million children under five have stunted growth, while the lives of over 50 million children in the world continue to be threatened by wasting. Such children are at a higher risk of mortality and poor health, growth and development. A multisectoral approach is needed to reduce the burden of stunting and wasting, and to appropriately treat wasting to reduce childhood morbidity and mortality.
In addition to contributing to undernutrition, the food insecurity we are witnessing today also contributes to overweight and obesity, which partly explains the coexistence of these forms of malnutrition in many countries. In 2017, childhood overweight affected over 38 million children under five years of age, with Africa and Asia representing 25 percent and 46 percent of the global total, respectively. Anaemia in women and obesity in adults are also on the increase at the global level – one in three women of reproductive age is anaemic and more than one in eight adults – or more than 672 million – is obese. The problem of obesity is most significant in North America, but it is worrying that even Africa and Asia, which still show the lowest rates of obesity, are also experiencing an upward trend. Furthermore, overweight and obesity are increasing the risk of non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and some forms of cancer.
In addition to conflict and violence in many parts of the world, the gains made in ending hunger and malnutrition are being eroded by climate variability and exposure to more complex, frequent and intense climate extremes, as shown in Part 2 of this report.
Hunger is significantly worse in countries with agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability and severe drought, and where the livelihood of a high proportion of the population depends on agriculture. If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems and people’s livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes.
Building climate resilience will require climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management to be integrated into short-, medium- and long-term policies, programmes and practices. National and local governments can find guidance in the outcomes and recommendations of existing global policy platforms: climate change (governed by the UNFCCC and the 2015 Paris Agreement); disaster risk reduction (the Sendai Framework on Disaster
Risk Reduction); humanitarian emergency response (the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and the Grand Bargain); improved nutrition and healthy diets (the Second International Conference on Nutrition [ICN2] and the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016–2025); and development as part of the overarching 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Currently many of these global policy platforms are still too compartmentalized and not well aligned.
Therefore, we must do more to work towards a better integration of these platforms to ensure that actions across and within sectors such as environment, food, agriculture and health, pursue coherent objectives to address the negative impacts and threats that changing climate variability and increased climate extremes pose to people’s food security, access to healthy diets, safe nutrition and health.
The transformative vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the new challenges we face in ending hunger and malnutrition call on us to renew and strengthen our five organizations’ strategic partnerships.
We reiterate our determination and commitment to step up concerted action to fulfil the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda and achieve a world free from hunger and all forms of malnutrition.
The alarming signs of increasing food insecurity and high levels of different forms of
malnutrition are a clear warning that there is considerable work to be done to make sure we “leave no one behind” on the road towards achieving the SDG goals on food security and improved nutrition.