UN Report: Global hunger numbers rose to as many as 828 million in 2021 UN Food and Agriculture Organization June 7, 2022 Access full report.
The number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021, an increase of about 46 million since 2020 and 150 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic (1), according to a United Nations report that provides fresh evidence that the world is moving further away from its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030.
The numbers paint a grim picture:
- As many as 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021 – 46 million people more from a year earlier and 150 million more from 2019.
- 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 percent of the world population. This compares with 8 percent in 2019 and 9.3 percent in 2020.
- Around 2.3 billion people in the world (29.3 percent) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021 – 350 million more compared to before the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic. Nearly 924 million people (11.7 percent of the global population) faced food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 207 million in two years.
- The gender gap in food insecurity continued to rise in 2021 – 31.9 percent of women in the world were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6 percent of men – a gap of more than 4 percentage points, compared with 3 percentage points in 2020.
- Almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019, reflecting the effects of inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it.
- 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. Furthermore, 149 million children under the age of five had stunted growth and development due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diets, while 39 million were overweight.
- Progress is being made on exclusive breastfeeding, with nearly 44 percent of infants under six months of age being exclusively breastfed worldwide in 2020. This is still short of the 50 percent target by 2030. Of great concern, two in three children are not fed the minimum diverse diet they need to grow and develop to their full potential.
Looking forward, projections are that nearly 670 million people (8 percent of the world population) will still be facing hunger in 2030 – even if a global economic recovery is taken into consideration. This is a similar number to 2015, when the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition by the end of this decade was launched under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As this report is being published, the ongoing war in Ukraine, involving two of the biggest global producers of staple cereals, oilseeds and fertilizer, is disrupting international supply chains and pushing up the prices of grain, fertilizer, energy, as well as ready-to-use therapeutic food for children with severe malnutrition. This comes as supply chains are already being adversely affected by increasingly frequent extreme climate events, especially in low-income countries, and has 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 heads of the five UN agencies (2) 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.”
Repurposing agricultural policies
The report notes as striking that worldwide support for the food and agricultural sector averaged almost USD 630 billion a year between 2013 and 2018. The lion share of it goes to individual farmers, through trade and market policies and fiscal subsidies. However, not only is much of this support market-distorting, but it is not reaching many farmers, hurts the environment and does not promote the production of nutritious foods that make up a healthy diet. That’s in part because subsidies often target the production of staple foods, dairy and other animal source foods, especially in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Rice, sugar and meats of various types are the most incentivized food items worldwide, while fruits and vegetables are relatively less supported, particularly in some low-income countries.
With the threats of a global recession looming, and the implications this has on public revenues and expenditures, a way to support economic recovery involves the repurposing of food and agricultural support to target nutritious foods where per capita consumption does not yet match the recommended levels for healthy diets.
The evidence suggests that if governments repurpose the resources they are using to incentivize the production, supply and consumption of nutritious foods, they will contribute to making healthy diets less costly, more affordable and equitably for all.
Finally, the report also points out that governments could do more to reduce trade barriers for nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables and pulses.
The report was jointly published today 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).
(1) It is estimated that between 702 and 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021. The estimate is presented as a range to reflect the added uncertainty in data collection due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. The increases are measured with reference to the middle of the projected range (768 million).