The United Nations released its first ever report on global hunger and malnutrition on Friday, and the prospects for a world without hunger by 2030 are looking grim.
After a decade of decline, the report indicates that global hunger has increased, with 815 million undernourished people in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015. While this is still far below 900 million in 2000, the rise in conflicts, caused, in part, by climate-related disasters, has triggered an uptick.
The UN has issued reports that measure the prevalence of hunger in the past, however, this is the first time they calculating metrics relating to malnutrition, such as stunting and obesity in collaboration with the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Rather than solely measuring global hunger, this report seeks to understand its wider effects on populations.
“We are broadening our collaboration, expanding the discussion, and understanding the linkages between hunger and malnutrition,” said Marco Sánchez Cantillo, deputy director and officer in charge of the Agricultural Development Economics Division of the United Nations.
Using official data gathered from each of the countries covered, the report records the prevalence of children who are below average height by the age of five, called stunting, and tallies overweight and obesity in children and adults. It also documents the occurrence of anaemia in women of reproductive age, which is a leading cause of maternal mortality, and rates of breastfeeding.
The findings are of global concern, affecting not only developing countries, but developed ones as well.
While there was a 6.6 percent decrease in stunting between 2005 and 2016, the current trends show that there will still be 130 million stunted children by 2025. The number of overweight children has also increased 1 percent between 2005 and 2016; and for adults, obesity more than doubled everywhere in the world between 1980 and 2014 and continues to accelerate. Obesity “is most severe in Northern America, Europe, and Oceania, where 28 percent of adults are classified as obese,” the report states.
“This is no longer a developing country problem,” Sánchez Cantillo said. “We have these problems in developed countries, too.”
Sánchez Cantillo points to three main drivers of world hunger and malnutrition: conflict and violence, weather related events, and economic slowdowns. “The drivers behind this will differ from country to country and even sometimes within countries,” he said. “We believe conflict and violence is one of the leading drivers in several parts of the world.”
The data shows that those who live in countries with conflict suffer more from hunger and malnutrition. About 60 percent live of the 850 million people suffering from hunger live in areas affected by conflict.
World hunger and malnutrition is particularly harmful in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South-Eastern and Western Asia, which are more susceptible to floods or droughts. Regions hit by climate-related disasters are then more susceptible to conflict and need more assistance in order to recover.
Global hunger is caught in a downward spiral: disasters cause conflict, conflict causes food insecurity, and food insecurity causes further conflict.
However, even for those who live in countries with little to no violence, economic slowdown can provoke difficulties with food imports, increasing domestic prices and resulting in a decrease in food availability.
While people in countries with long-term conflict suffer more than those with intermittent conflict or peace, food insecurity can happen anywhere — even in Texas or Florida. Rather than solely focusing on immediate humanitarian aid, the report emphasizes long term solutions and rebuilding towards resilience.
“The rising hunger that we are observing should set off alarm bells that we cannot afford to ignore,” said Sánchez Cantillo. “And that importantly, we will not end hunger by 2030 unless we address all the factors that undermine food security.”
This report marks the beginning of ongoing monitoring of global hunger and malnutrition.
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