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Millions more going hungry amid crises

China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-14 09:42

Needy residents carry away food given out by a nonprofit group in Lagos, Nigeria, on Saturday. [SUNDAY ALAMBA/ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Pandemic a factor driving 'dramatic worsening' in 2020, UN agencies say

UNITED NATIONS-The United Nations on Monday lamented a "dramatic worsening" of world hunger last year, saying much of that is likely connected to the pandemic, and it called on the global community to act quickly to save millions of people from starving.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the new "tragic data" shows that between 720 million and 811 million people faced hunger in 2020-as many as 161 million more than in 2019, according to a UN report published on Monday.

Global hunger levels have skyrocketed because of conflict, climate change and the economic impact of COVID-19; and one in five children around the world are stunted, according to "The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021".

The new data-representing the first comprehensive global assessment of food insecurity since the coronavirus pandemic began-indicates that the number of people affected by chronic hunger in 2020 rose by more than in the previous five years combined.

Reversing this situation will likely take years if not decades, according to the World Food Programme, or WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Health Organization and the UN Children's Fund.

The report urged the global community to act swiftly to help the world get back on track to reach the second goal of the Sustainable Development Agenda, which is to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

"The pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world," the heads of the participating UN agencies wrote in this year's report.

If the trends were maintained, the UN agencies estimated that the second goal would be missed "by a margin of nearly 660 million people." According to the report, about 30 million more people may face hunger in 2030 as a result of COVID-19 than if the pandemic had not occurred.

Some 418 million of the undernourished people last year were in Asia, according to the report. It said the sharpest rise in hunger came in Africa, where 21 percent of the people-282 million-are estimated to be undernourished.

Globally, 2.4 billion people did not have access to sufficiently nutritious food in 2020, an increase of nearly 320 million people in one year.

Weather-related shocks

The report also highlights how climate change has left communities in developing countries most exposed to hunger.

These nations are also the least prepared to withstand or respond to climate change, said the WFP's Gernot Laganda, who added that weather-related shocks and stresses were "driving hunger like never before".

This suggests that "it will take a tremendous effort for the world to honor its pledge to end hunger by 2030", the agencies said in a statement.

More than 149 million children aged under 5 were affected by stunting and 370 million missed out on school meals in 2020, because of school closures during the pandemic.

"The (report) highlights a devastating reality: the path to Zero Hunger is being stopped dead in its tracks by conflict, climate and COVID-19," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.

Children's potential "is being destroyed by hunger", he said. "The world needs to act to save this lost generation before it's too late," Beasley said.

Ahead of the publication of the report, Agnes Kalibata, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, said the pandemic is only partly to blame.

"Hunger on this scale is not a symptom of COVID-19; it is a symptom of a dysfunctional food system that buckles under pressure and abandons the most vulnerable first," Kalibata said.

In September, the UN will convene a Food Systems Summit with the objective of launching actions to build healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems around the world.

Maximo Torero, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's chief economist, said removing 100 million people from chronic undernourishment would require an additional $14 billion a year until 2030-and to achieve the goal of zero hunger by 2030"we were talking about $40 billion".

Xinhua - Agencies

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