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Number of hungry people increasing globally, states UN nutrition report
Friday, 14 September, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Rome
New evidence continues to signal that the number of hungry people in the world is growing, reaching 821 million in 2017 or one in every nine people, according to the United Nations’ (UN) recent report, titled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018.

Limited progress is also being made in addressing the multiple forms of malnutrition, ranging from child stunting to adult obesity, putting the health of hundreds of millions of people at risk.

Hunger has been on the rise over the past three years, returning to levels from a decade ago. This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done and urgently, if the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030.

The situation is worsening in South America and most regions of Africa, while the decreasing trend in undernourishment that characterised Asia seems to be slowing down significantly.

The annual UN report found that climate variability affecting rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, and climate extremes such as droughts and floods, were among the key drivers behind the rise in hunger, together with conflict and economic slowdowns.

“The alarming signs of increasing food insecurity and high levels of different forms of malnutrition are a clear warning that there is considerable work to be done to make sure we leave no one behind on the road towards achieving the SDG goals on food security and improved nutrition,” warned the heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in their joint foreword to the report.

“If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems and people’s livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes,” the leaders said.

Impact of climate variability and extremes on hunger
Changes in climate are already undermining the production of major crops, such as wheat, rice and maize, in tropical and temperate regions and, without building climate resilience, this is expected to worsen, as temperatures increase and become more extreme.

The analysis in the report has shown that the prevalence and number of undernourished people tend to be higher in countries highly exposed to climate extremes. Undernourishment is higher again when exposure to climate extremes is compounded by a high proportion of the population depending on agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability.  

Temperature anomalies over agricultural cropping areas continued to be higher than the long-term mean between 2011 and 2016, leading to more frequent spells of extreme heat in the last five years. The nature of rainfall seasons is also changing, such as the late or early start of rainy seasons and the unequal distribution of rainfall within a season. 

The harm to agricultural production contributes to shortfalls in food availability, with knock-on effects causing food price hikes and income losses that reduce people's access to food.

Slow progress on ending malnutrition 
The report stated that poor progress was being made in reducing child stunting, with nearly 151 million children aged under five too short for their age due to malnutrition in 2017, compared to 165 million in 2012. Globally, Africa and Asia accounted for 39 per cent and 55 per cent of all stunted children, respectively.

Prevalence of child wasting remains extremely high in Asia where almost one in 10 children under five has low weight for their height, compared to just one in 100 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report described as shameful the fact that one in three women of reproductive age globally is affected by anaemia, which has significant health and development consequences for both women and their children. No region has shown a decline in anaemia among women of reproductive age, and the prevalence in Africa and Asia is nearly three times higher than in North America.

The rates of exclusive breastfeeding in Africa and Asia are one-and-a-half times higher than those in North America, where only 26 per cent of infants under six months receive breastmilk exclusively.

Obesity on the rise
Adult obesity is worsening, and more than one in eight adults in the world is obese. The report showed that the problem was most significant in North America, but Africa and Asia were also experiencing an upward trend.

Undernutrition and obesity coexist in many countries, and can even be seen side by side in the same household. Poor access to nutritious food due to its higher cost, the stress of living with food insecurity and physiological adaptations to food deprivation help explain why food-insecure families may have a higher risk of overweight and obesity.

Call for action
The report called for implementing and scaling up interventions aimed at guaranteeing access to nutritious foods and breaking the inter-generational cycle of malnutrition.

Policies must pay special attention to groups who are the most vulnerable to the harmful consequences of poor food access: infants, children aged under five, school-aged children, adolescent girls and women.

At the same time, a sustainable shift must be made towards nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems that can provide safe and high-quality food for all.

The report also called for greater efforts to build climate resilience through policies that promote climate change adaptation and mitigation, and disaster risk reduction.
 
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