COVID-19 pandemic, repeated weather shocks drove 122 million more to hunger since 2019: UN 

If trends remain as they were, the UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of ending hunger by 2030 will not be reached

By Shagun
Published: Wednesday 12 July 2023
About 29.6 per cent of the global population — 2.4 billion people — were moderately or severely food insecure in 2022, of which about 900 million (11.3 per cent of people in the world) were severely food insecure. Photo: iStock

Over 122 million more people have gone hungry in the world since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, repeated weather shocks and conflicts, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, a new report has found.

The prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in 2022 was still far above pre-COVID-19-pandemic levels, although it remained unchanged compared to 2021, showed the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report released jointly by five United Nations specialised agencies on July 12, 2023. 

Read more: Pakistan, Afghanistan among global hunger hotspots: UN report

If trends remain as they were, the UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of ending hunger by 2030 will not be reached, the report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warned.

About 29.6 per cent of the global population — 2.4 billion people — were moderately or severely food insecure in 2022, of which about 900 million (11.3 per cent of people in the world) were severely food insecure. Almost 600 million people will be chronically undernourished in 2030, the report also projected. 

This is about 119 million more than in a scenario in which neither the pandemic nor the war in Ukraine had occurred and around 23 million more than if the war in Ukraine had not happened. 

The revised analysis presented in this year’s report showed that almost 3.2 billion people worldwide could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, with a slight improvement in 2021 (a decrease of 52 million people). 

The cost of a healthy diet increased globally by 6.7 per cent between 2019 and 2021, with a notable single-year increase of 4.3 per cent in 2021. The cost increased by more than 5 per cent between 2020 and 2021 in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Oceania, but only marginally in Northern America and Europe,” the report pointed out. 

Read more: Declining food imports by most vulnerable countries a cause for concern: FAO

The analysis featured increasing urbanisation as one of the megatrends that was driving changes in agrifood systems and, as a consequence, their capacity to deliver affordable, healthy diets for all, across the rural-urban continuum. 

With almost seven in ten people projected to live in cities by 2050, the simple concept of a rural-urban divide was no longer useful to understand the growing links across urban, peri-urban and rural areas. 

“This growing connectivity across the rural-urban continuum is a key aspect today to understand the functioning of value chains. Only then can the challenges and the opportunities that urbanisation creates for agrifood systems be clearly mapped onto appropriate policy, technology and investment solutions.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia — the two regions exhibiting the highest urbanisation rates, rapid urbanisation was leading to rising and changing food demand and shifts in patterns of food supply.

Projections of overall food expenditure estimated an approximate 2.5-fold increase in sub-Saharan Africa and a 1.7-fold increase in Southern Asia by 2050. 

Read more: Starvation deaths in Odisha: Here are some recommendations to address it

In Southern Asia, the urban population was projected to more than double, increasing by 120 percent, from 555 million to 1.3 billion.

The report also showed evidence on how food purchases were high across the rural-urban continuum, even among rural households living far from an urban centre, challenging the conventional thinking that purchase patterns between urban and rural areas differ markedly. 

In the 11 African countries studied, although consumption of processed foods, including highly processed foods, was higher in urban areas, it only gradually declined in peri-urban and rural areas.

Moreover, consumption of vegetables, fruits, and fats and oils was fairly uniform across the rural-urban continuum relative to total food consumption

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