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The number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021, according to a new United Nations (UN) report.
That represents an increase of about 46 million since 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the world’s economy into a downward spiral and 150 million more since 2019.
The agency said the report provides new evidence that the world is moving in reverse, away from the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.
After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger jumped in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021 to 9.8% of the world population.
This compares with 8% in 2019 and 9.3% in 2020, according to this year’s edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI).
In addition, around 2.3 billion people worldwide (29.3%) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021 – 350 million more compared to before the pandemic outbreak.
Nearly 924 million people faced food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 207 million in two years.
In 2021, women (31.9%) remained moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6% of men. In addition, an estimated 45 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition, which increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times, according to the UN.
Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said the figures were a “shocking report card of our efforts to end hunger – and we can, and must, do better.”
She noted that it includes billions who have limited or rationed their food intake or started eating less nutritious food because they can’t afford alternatives.
“These are people whose lives, livelihoods and prospects for a fruitful and dignified life are being crippled, with their futures eroded and potential and aspirations held back,” she said, speaking in July at the SOFI launch in New York.
“They need our crosscutting resolve,” she said. “The evidence presented in this report is compelling as it is outrageous when we see that children in rural settings and poorer households, whose mothers received no formal education, were even more vulnerable to stunting and wasting.”
On the contrary, the report said progress is being made on exclusive breastfeeding, with nearly 44% of infants under six months being exclusively breastfed worldwide in 2020. However, this still remains short of the 50% target set by the 2030 SDGs.
The report also highlighted the damaging impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has disrupted the supply of staple cereals, oilseeds and fertilizer from both nations.
It has also harmed international supply chains, provoking soaring prices and ready-to-use therapeutic food for severely malnourished children.
Supply chains are already being adversely affected by increasingly frequent extreme climate events, especially in low-income countries, and have potentially sobering implications for global food security and nutrition.
“This report repeatedly highlights the intensification of these major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition: conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks, combined with growing inequalities,” the five UN agencies wrote in this year’s foreword. “The issue at stake is not whether adversities will continue to occur or not but how we must take bolder action to build resilience against future shocks.”
FAO Director-General QU Dongyu noted that low-income countries where agriculture is key to the economy, jobs and rural livelihoods, “have little public resources to repurpose. FAO is committed to continue working together with these countries to explore opportunities for increasing the provision of public services for all actors across agri-food systems.”
“These are depressing figures for humanity,” IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo said.
“We continue to move away from our goal of ending hunger by 2030. The ripple effects of the global food crisis will most likely worsen the outcome again next year. We need a more intense approach to end hunger and IFAD stands ready to do its part by scaling up its operations and impact,” he said.