Half of the world’s hungry people live in Asia-Pacific; Southern Asia worst affected: FAO

Higher food, feed, and fuel prices, combined with a slow recovery from COVID-19 pandemic to blame; women fared worse in food insecurity

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 13 December 2023
Higher food, fuel, fertiliser and livestock feed prices are exacerbating the problems of malnutrition and food security. Photo: iStock

About 55 million more people in Asia were undernourished in 2022 than before the COVID-19 pandemic, with Southern Asia most affected, a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said. About half of the world’s undernourished and food insecure people live in the Asia-Pacific region, with more food-insecure individuals in Southern Asia than any other subregion, it found. 

The combination of higher food, feed and fuel prices and a slow recovery from the global pandemic has seriously harmed the health and livelihoods of millions of already vulnerable people in the Asia-Pacific region, said Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2023 –  Statistics and Trends

The report also found gender disparities in nutrition —  women fared worse in food insecurity than men across the subregions, except for Eastern Asia. Almost one-tenth of women face severe food insecurity, while nearly one-fourth have moderate food insecurity.

Anaemia rates among women of reproductive age were still falling short of World Health Assembly global nutrition targets. The prevalence rates of stunting, wasting and obesity in children under the age of five are also on the rise, the FAO found. Southern Asia also had the highest percent of children under five affected by wasting when compared to the world’s average in 2022 — 14.3 per cent.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and the “5Fs” crisis — food, feed, fuel, fertilisers, and finance — the region witnessed harrowing statistics, and the region is still suffering from their long-term effects, the report said. With a total of 370.7 million undernourished people, Asia-Pacific continues to represent half of the global total.

Higher food, fuel, fertiliser and animal feed prices are exacerbating the problems of malnutrition and food security, the report found. The cost of a healthy diet rose on average by 5.3 per cent in purchasing power parity, showed latest available statistics from the UN and FAO. The average cost of a healthy diet in the Asia-Pacific was estimated at 4.15 purchasing power parity dollars per person per day.

The cost of a healthy diet was estimated to be out of reach for 232.8 million people in the region, the report said — accounting for some 85 per cent of the total number of undernourished people across Asia-Pacific. The per-capita situation is even worse in the South-West Pacific Islands, where one in every five people is malnourished. 

In 2021, there were 1.9 billion people who could not afford a healthy diet in the region. This represents an improvement of 80.4 million people from 2020. 

Undernourishment in Asia and the Pacific fell to 8.4 per cent in 2022, down from 8.8 per cent the previous year, equating to approximately 12 million fewer undernourished people than in 2021. This was, however, 55 million more than in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Southern Asia had the most people (1.4 billion) who could not afford the cost of a healthy diet in 2021. South-eastern Asia comes in second with 357.4 million people, up 8.4 million (or 0.9 percentage point) from 2020.

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