‘Zero hunger by 2030’ impaired by Covid-19

Preliminary projections show that the pandemic may add an additional 83m to 132m people to the ranks of the undernourished in 2020


THE global Covid-19 pandemic is expected to be the main stumbling block for the United Nations (UN) to achieve its “zero hunger” target by 2030.

The UN secretary general spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric de la Rivière said the pandemic is making things even worse than it already is, as more people are slipping into hunger this year.

“The secretary general himself said we cannot make this happen. If the current trend continues, we will not achieve the sustainable development that’s zero hunger by 2030,” he said in a daily noon press briefing on Monday.

The latest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 estimates that almost 690 million people went hungry last year, 10 million more from the number reported in 2018.

The projection also shows an increase of nearly 60 million in the next five years.

The study revealed that based on the latest available global economic outlooks, preliminary projections show that the Covid-19 pandemic may add an additional 83 million to 132 million people to the ranks of the undernourished in 2020.

“Despite the reassessment of the extent of hunger in China, the majority of the world’s undernourished — 381 million — are still found in Asia.

“More than 250 million live in Africa, where the number of undernourished people is growing faster than in any other region of the world,” the report stated, adding that the burden of malnutrition is also noted as a global challenge.

“According to estimates, in 2019, 21.3% (144 million) of children under five years of age were stunted, 6.9% (47 million) wasted and 5.6% (38.3 million) overweight.

“The world is making progress, but is not on track to achieve the 2025 and 2030 targets for child stunting and low birthweight. For exclusive breastfeeding, is on track only for the 2025 target. The prevalence of wasting is notably above the targets,” the report revealed.

On the other hand, adult obesity is also on the rise in all regions and if it continues to rise by 2.6% per year, it will reach 40% growth in 2025.

“Adult obesity continues to rise, from 11.8% in 2012 to 13.1% in 2016 and is not on track to reach the global target to halt the rise in adult obesity by 2025,” it added.

After factoring in sustainability considerations, a global switch to healthy diets would help check the backslide into hunger while delivering enormous savings.

“It calculates that such a shift would allow the health costs associated with unhealthy diets, estimated to reach US$1.3 trillion (RM5.55 trillion) a year in 2030, to be almost entirely offset, while the diet-related social cost of greenhouse gas emissions — estimated at US$1.7 trillion — could be cut by up to three-quarters,” the report said.

The UN report also highlighted that in order to ensure nutritious foods are delivered, as well as affordability of healthy diets, policies would have to be adjusted, and measures would have to be taken.

“Reducing the costs of nutritious foods and ensuring the affordability of healthy diets for everyone requires significant transformations of existing food systems worldwide, including strengthening their resilience in the face of shocks from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Given the diversity and complexity of food systems, countries will need to implement a set of context-specific policies and strategies, step up public and private sector investments with significant policy coherence, and improved planning and coordination across sectors and actors,” it said.

An urgent rebalancing of agricultural policies and incentives should start the process, as well as policy actions along food supply chains to reduce costs, and that efficiency of internal trade and marketing mechanisms are the keys to reaching the objectives.

“Raising the affordability of healthy diets requires policies that enhance employment and income-generating activities, reduce income inequality and ensure no one is left behind.

“Nutrition-sensitive social protection programmes will be particularly necessary to support the poor and those living through humanitarian crises, without basic access to sufficient nutritious food to meet dietary requirements,” the report added.