World hunger rose during the pandemic

July 14, 2021

There was a dramatic worsening of world hunger in 2020 — much of it likely related to the fallout from 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.

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), according to the WHO.

In 2020, hunger shot up in both absolute and proportional terms, outpacing population growth: some 9.9% of all people are estimated to have been undernourished last year, up from 8.4% 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% of the population — is more than double that of any other region.

On other measurements, too, the year 2020 was somber. Overall, more than 2.3 billion people (or 30% 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).

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