World hunger has been on the rise for years. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 report revealed that over 820 million did not have enough to eat in 2018, up from 811 million in the previous year. The World Health Organization reported that Africa has the most alarming situation because it has the highest rates of hunger in the world, which are continuing to slowly but steadily rise in almost all subregions. For instance, nearly 30.8% in Eastern Africa is undernourished due to climate and conflict, economic slowdowns, and downturns.
In 2018, the continent with the highest number of hungry people was Asia with 513.9 million, followed by Africa (256.1 million) and Latin America and the Caribbean (42.5 million). Asia also holds the largest number of undernourished people with more than 500 million. Together, Africa and Asia bear the greatest share of all forms of malnutrition, accounting for more than nine out of ten of all stunted children and over nine out of ten of all wasted children worldwide.
Additionally, it was reported that income inequality is rising in many of the countries where hunger is on the rise. This has made it even more difficult for the poor, vulnerable or marginalized to cope with economic slowdowns and downturns. “We must foster pro-poor and inclusive structural transformation focusing on people and placing communities at the center to reduce economic vulnerabilities and set ourselves on track to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition,” the UN leaders said.
However, world hunger might even get worse as the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect many countries.
Coronavirus Could Double Number of People Going Hungry
The COVID-19 lockdowns have had a swift and devastating impact on the population’s ability to access sufficient food, recent reports showed. This has caused severe slowdowns in international trade and food supply chains. While harvests across the world are good and enough food is being produced to feed the world, the UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) are increasingly getting worried because export restrictions or tariffs by some governments could create shortages.
A recent survey conducted by YouGov for the Food Foundation and the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC) revealed that about 1.5 million people have gone without food for a whole day since the coronavirus lockdown began. According to the Independent, a British online publisher of news, about 6% of people reported someone in their household had gone hungry since social distancing measures were introduced and 14% said someone in their household had been forced to reduce or skip meals because they could not access or afford food.
The results come after food banks report a widespread increase in use and panic buying saw supermarket shelves cleared of vital everyday necessities. The survey also revealed that 16% of the population face food security issues, 21% did not have enough money to pick up supplies, while 50% were impacted by food shortages. “These figures, based on a three-week window of time, are 1.5-2 times higher than what we usually see when we survey about experiences of hunger covering 12 months,” Dr. Rachel Loopstra, lecturer in Nutrition, King’s College London, said.
Recent reports warned that those suffering from chronic hunger may surge from about 800 million amid mounting food-supply risks. The number of people going hungry across the world could double in just a few months. One of the main reasons is the continuous disruptions in transport and labor, boosting prices of key staples such as wheat and rice. Aside from that, job losses from the outbreak are reducing the income of millions of people. All of these are prompting governments to restrict various food exports to safeguard domestic supplies.
“It would not be hard to envisage scenarios in which the number of people suffering from hunger on a daily basis, already estimated at over 800 million, doubles over the coming months, with a huge risk of increased malnutrition and child stunting,” the food companies warn.
Recently, Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, farmers’ organizations, the UN Foundation, academics, and civil society groups wrote a letter to world leaders to keep borders open to trade to help the society’s most vulnerable. According to Bloomberg, an online site that delivers business and markets news, data, analysis, and video to the world, the letter urges governments to ensure access to nutritious and affordable food to help prevent a global humanitarian crisis. Aside from encouraging major food exporters to clarify that they’ll keep fully supplying international markets, they also proposed measures to help in the current crisis. This includes supporting the most vulnerable, investing in local production, and treating farmers and food workers as part of an essential sector.
“When acting to protect the health and well-being of their citizens, countries should ensure that any trade-related measures do not disrupt the food supply chain. Such disruptions including hampering the movement of agricultural and food industry workers and extending border delays for food containers, resulting in the spoilage of perishables and increasing food waste,” said the joint text signed by Qu Dongyu, head of the FAO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, and Roberto Azevedo, director of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Who’s Most At Risk?
Many countries have decided to cut back on food exports in a bid to ensure they have enough food for their own citizens. For instance, Vietnam, a major exporter of rice, has suspended exports of that product and other commodities. Kazakhstan, one of the world’s major exporters of wheat, has also suspended exports of that commodity. Unfortunately, situations like these are felt more by developing countries.
About 85 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean alone rely on school meals to eat. Thus, school closures mean no more school meals, which could mean an end to the only hot meal anyone among family members would get in a day. People living in developing nations have little to no access to opportunities that could bring food to their tables, which is extremely alarming considering the current crisis.
According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, governments must do everything in their power to keep trade routes open and supply chains alive. “We must ensure that our response to COVID-19 does not unintentionally create unwarranted shortages of essential items and exacerbate hunger and malnutrition,” the leaders said.