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811 million people go to bed hungry
by WFP, FAO, UNICEF, Action Against Hunger, agencies
11:46am 21st Jun, 2021
July 2021
There was a dramatic worsening of world hunger in 2020, the United Nations said this week – much of it likely related to the fallout of COVID-19.
While the pandemic’s impact has yet to be fully mapped , a multi-agency report estimates that around a tenth of the global population – up to 811 million people – were undernourished last year.
This year’s edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World is the first global assessment of its kind in the pandemic era.
The report is jointly published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Previous editions had already put the world on notice that the food security of millions – many children among them – was at stake.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” the heads of the five UN agencies write in this year’s Foreword.
Already in the mid-2010s, hunger had started creeping upwards, dashing hopes of irreversible decline. Disturbingly, in 2020 hunger shot up in both absolute and proportional terms, outpacing population growth: some 9.9 percent of all people are estimated to have been undernourished last year, up from 8.4 percent in 2019.
More than half of all undernourished people (418 million) live in Asia; more than a third (282 million) in Africa; and a smaller proportion (60 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the sharpest rise in hunger was in Africa, where the estimated prevalence of undernourishment – at 21 percent of the population – is more than double that of any other region.
On other measurements too, the year 2020 was sombre. Overall, more than 2.3 billion people (or 30 percent of the global population) lacked year-round access to adequate food: this indicator – known as the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity – leapt in one year as much in as the preceding five combined.
Gender inequality deepened: for every 10 food-insecure men, there were 11 food-insecure women in 2020 (up from 10.6 in 2019).
Malnutrition persisted in all its forms, with children paying a high price: in 2020, over 149 million under-fives are estimated to have been stunted, or too short for their age; more than 45 million – wasted, or too thin for their height; and nearly 39 million – overweight.
A full three-billion adults and children remained locked out of healthy diets, largely due to excessive costs. Nearly a third of women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia.
Globally, despite progress in some areas – more infants, for example, are being fed exclusively on breast milk – the world is not on track to achieve targets for any nutrition indicators by 2030.
Other hunger and malnutrition drivers
In many parts of the world, the pandemic has triggered brutal recessions and jeopardized access to food. Yet even before the pandemic, hunger was spreading; progress on malnutrition lagged. This was all the more so in nations affected by conflict, climate extremes or other economic downturns, or battling high inequality – all of which the report identifies as major drivers of food insecurity, which in turn interact.
On current trends, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World estimates that Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger by 2030) will be missed by a margin of nearly 660 million people.
Transforming food systems is essential to achieve food security, improve nutrition and put healthy diets within reach of all. This year’s edition outlines six “transformation pathways”. These, the authors say, rely on a “coherent set of policy and investment portfolios” to counteract the hunger and malnutrition drivers.
Depending on the particular driver (or combination of drivers) confronting each country, the report urges policymakers to:
Integrate humanitarian, development and peacebuilding policies in conflict areas – for example, through social protection measures to prevent families from selling meagre assets in exchange for food;
Scale up climate resilience across food systems – for example, by offering smallholder farmers wide access to climate risk insurance and forecast-based financing;
Strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity – for example, through in-kind or cash support programmes to lessen the impact of pandemic-style shocks or food price volatility;
Intervene along supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods – for example, by encouraging the planting of biofortified crops or making it easier for fruit and vegetable growers to access markets;
Tackle poverty and structural inequalities – for example, by boosting food value chains in poor communities through technology transfers and certification programmes;
Strengthen food environments and changing consumer behaviour – for example, by eliminating industrial trans fats and reducing the salt and sugar content in the food supply, or protecting children from the negative impact of food marketing.
The report also calls for an “enabling environment of governance mechanisms and institutions” to make transformation possible. It enjoins policymakers to consult widely; to empower women and youth; and to expand the availability of data and new technologies. Above all, the authors urge, the world must act now – or watch the drivers of hunger and malnutrition recur with growing intensity in coming years, long after the shock of the pandemic has passed.
Gilbert Houngbo, president of Ifad, said enough food was being produced to feed everyone and the crisis was a failure in the food system.
“It is clear that, unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food system, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world, particularly the most vulnerable and those living in countries affected by conflict, climate change and inequality,” he said.
Houngbo said the pandemic had underlined the importance of investing in rural areas, which have suffered some of the worst effects of poverty and the climate crisis, as well as conflicts that can both be fuelled by hunger and cause it.
He said small-scale farmers were the most reliable suppliers of food and should receive more investment to help in reaching the global goal of ending hunger. He said the growing shift towards local food production in some African countries was encouraging.
“In some of the world’s poorest countries, agriculture has the potential to become a thriving and successful sector that feeds its communities, creates jobs and provides economic and livelihood benefits,” he said.
UNICEF Director Henrietta Fore: "The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted — and continues to disrupt — all of the systems related to good nutrition. From food and health, to social protection programmes for families who are suffering financially.
"This means that millions of children are still struggling to access the nutritious and safe diets they need to grow, develop and learn to their full potential.
"For example, a national survey in Indonesia found that 31 per cent of households reported food shortages, compared to just three per cent in the previous year. And 38 per cent reported eating less than usual, compared to just five per cent the previous year.
"We’re seeing similar findings around the world. In a UNICEF survey, 90 per cent of 135 countries reported a decline in coverage of essential nutrition services during the pandemic — and on average, 40 per cent of the world’s basic nutrition services were disrupted.
"The pandemic alone is not to blame for the food and nutrition crisis. As this year’s report reminds us, conflicts, climate change and economic recessions are also driving food and malnutrition insecurity and threatening the resilience of food systems, which are the cornerstone of good nutrition".
"Famines should be consigned to history, yet in multiple countries they loom again.. Poverty is shrinking incomes and placing nutritious, safe, and diverse foods and diets out-of-reach for millions of children and families.
"In 2020, an estimated 149 million, or more than 1 in 5 children under 5 years of age were suffering from stunting. And 45 million were suffering from wasting".
"We need to build the resilience of local food systems to external shocks, such as conflict and climate change, that leave communities across the world vulnerable to malnutrition".
“The report highlights a devastating reality: the path to Zero Hunger is being stopped dead in its tracks by conflict, climate and COVID-19,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. Children’s future potential “is being destroyed by hunger”, he insisted. “The world needs to act to save this lost generation before it’s too late.”
Jean-Michel Grand, director of Action Against Hunger UK, said: “Every year global hunger levels rise and every year it seems the international community kicks the can further down the road. What percentage of the world’s population needs to be going hungry before governments start to take this issue seriously? Will we have to wait until famines are widespread? Because this is an inevitable consequence if we continue to mishandle and underfund this issue".
Food security indicators – latest updates and progress towards ending hunger and ensuring food security
World hunger increased in 2020 under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. After remaining virtually unchanged for five years, the prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) increased from 8.4 to around 9.9 percent in just one year, heightening the challenge of achieving the Zero Hunger target by 2030.
It is projected that 811 million people in the world faced hunger in 2020. Considering the middle of the projected range (768 million), around 118 million more people were facing hunger in 2020 than in 2019 – or as many as 161 million more, considering the upper bound of the projected range.
Hunger affects 21.0 percent of the population in Africa, compared with 9.0 percent in Asia and 9.1 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. In terms of numbers, more than half of the world’s undernourished are found in Asia (418 million) and more than one-third in Africa (282 million).
While the global prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity (measured using the Food Insecurity Experience Scale) has been slowly on the rise since 2014, the estimated increase in 2020 was equal to that of the previous five years combined.
Nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of almost 320 million people in just one year.
The sharpest increases in moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020 occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Africa. In Northern America and Europe, food insecurity increased for the first time since the beginning of FIES data collection in 2014.
Of the 2.37 billion people facing moderate or severe food insecurity, half (1.2 billion) are found in Asia, one-third (799 million) in Africa, and 11 percent (267 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Close to 12 percent of the global population was severely food insecure in 2020, representing 928 million people – 148 million more than in 2019.
At the global level, the gender gap in the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity has grown even larger in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity being 10 percent higher among women than men in 2020, compared with 6 percent in 2019.
The high cost of healthy diets coupled with persistent high levels of income inequality put healthy diets out of reach for around 3 billion people, especially the poor, in every region of the world in 2019 – slightly less than in 2017.
Notably, Africa and Latin America show an increase in the unaffordability of heathy diets between 2017 and 2019, but it is likely that increases will be seen in most regions in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
* Complete PDF report (240pp):
811 million people go to bed hungry - Action Against Hunger
A new report reveals the true impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global food insecurity and malnutrition. The flagship United Nations report - The State of the Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) - found that 9.9% of the global population is undernourished and as many as 811 million people are hungry, up from 690 million people in 2019.
This sharp spike in hunger rates has been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict and climate shocks.
“Hunger is preventable, yet every night, 811 million people go to bed hungry and millions more don’t know where their next meal will come from,” said Dr. Charles Owubah, CEO of Action Against Hunger, a global nonprofit leader in hunger prevention and treatment.
“An estimated 45.4 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of hunger. Each of these children has enormous potential to contribute to this beautiful world. We cannot afford to lose them to malnutrition. The world cannot stand by and allow their families to suffer more needless deaths.”
Hunger has been increasing since 2014, reversing decades of previous progress, and the new data confirm a sharp uptick since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Action Against Hunger staff are responding to the growing need in hotspots like Colombia, South Sudan and Yemen, and in more than 45 other countries.
SOFI found that the sharpest rise in hunger was in Africa, where 21 percent of the population is undernourished, more than double any other region. Globally, more than half of all undernourished people (418 million) live in Asia; more than a third (282 million) in Africa; and less than one-fifth (60 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The report links increased hunger to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is far from over in much of the world, where infection rates are increasing and vaccine rollout remains slow and inequitable.For many, the pandemic’s secondary impacts, including dangerous levels of hunger, are worse than the virus itself.
Disruptions in trade, movement restrictions, rising food prices, and deteriorating economies have made it harder for poor families to earn incomes and feed their children.
SOFI anticipates the pandemic will have a lasting residual impact on global food security, projecting that as many as 660 million people may still face hunger in 2030, 30 million more people than had the pandemic not occurred.
Climate change also disproportionately harms the poorest communities. Severe droughts, floods, storms, and other weather shocks – which have nearly doubled in the past twenty years - limit people’s capacity to produce food and earn an income. More than 80% of the world’s hungriest people live in disaster-prone countries.
Hunger is also both a cause and consequence of conflict. An estimated 60% of the world’s hungry people live in countries where there is active conflict, most of which are caused by disputes over food, water or the resources needed to produce them. Conflict disrupts harvests, hampers the delivery of humanitarian aid, and forces families to flee their homes.
“COVID-19, conflict, and the climate crisis exacerbate underlying weaknesses in health, food and social protection systems, threatening the lives of the most vulnerable members of society who are already struggling to survive,” said Owubah.
Action Against Hunger calls on the international community to invest in ensuring all people have access to basic services.
"We call on all countries to make bold financial and political commitments to end hunger. The world must act now to respond to the causes of food insecurity, make nutrition-sensitive investments, and take policy actions that create opportunities for the most vulnerable people,” said Owubah.

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