NEW YORK - The United Nations said Monday that 690 million people across the planet were undernourished last year, and an additional 83- to 132 million are at risk this year due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“World hunger is still increasing — up by 10 million people in one year and 60 million in five years,” said Maximo Torero Cullen, chief economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is one of five U.N. agencies that compiled the report on world hunger.
“Over 2 billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food,” he added. Of that figure, about 746 million are severely food insecure and 1.25 billion are moderately food insecure.
With nearly 13 million confirmed cases worldwide of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, infections are rising as food stocks in some parts of the world are already low.
“This is a critical time,” said David Beasley, the head of the World Food Program. “Nations must step up and reach deep in their pockets or we are going to have mass starvation and other significant issues.”
The U.N. says the number of undernourished people rose by 10 million between 2018 and 2019. The report found that conflict, climate-related shocks and economic slowdowns are largely responsible for the deterioration in food production and accessibility.
In Africa, some 250 million people are undernourished — the highest rate in the world at 19.1% — more than double the world average of 8.9%.
While more than half the undernourished people in the world live in Asia — some 381 million — the percentage of the population is below the world average at 8.3%. The U.N. says that Asia has shown progress in reducing the number of hungry people, down by 8 million since 2015.
Latin America and the Caribbean have seen a rise in hunger in the past few years, with the number of undernourished people increasing by 9 million between 2015 and 2019. While their rate of undernourishment is below the world average at 7.4%, there are still nearly 48 million people who are undernourished in the region.
The report found that there has been some progress in tackling child stunting and low birth weight, but more needs to be done.
If current trends continue, the U.N. says the world will not meet the goal of zero hunger by 2030, and could see the number of undernourished people surpass 840 million in the next decade.
“The world is not on track to defeat malnutrition,” Torero Cullen said. “While there is some progress in child stunting and breastfeeding, children who are overweight is not improving and adult obesity is rising.”
The report also found that 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet — which costs five times as much on average as a basic diet.
“We must make healthy diets affordable and accessible for everyone,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
Guterres said he plans to convene a Food Systems Summit next year.
The U.N. says urgent action is needed to support a shift that makes healthy diets affordable to all and that is also sustainable for the planet.