Photo: Stéphane Rakotomalala
A new report by the United Nations reveals the concrete impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global food insecurity and malnutrition. The flagship report – The State of the Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) – found that 9.9% of the global population is malnourished 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 as well as conflict and climate shocks.
Hunger has been increasing since 2014, reversing decades of previous progress, and the new data confirm a sharp uptick since the start of the pandemic. The SOFI report shows 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.