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New reports urge action on world hunger and poverty

The world is not on track to achieve a goal of zero hunger by 2030, according to a 320-page report released this week by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other agencies.

If recent trends continue, more than 840 million people will be affected by hunger by 2030, finds The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. 

Concerns about food insecurity in Australia are growing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent lockdowns in Melbourne have again brought  images of huge lines of international students and other temporary visa holders in need of food. 


Peter McInnes writes:

Five years after the world committed through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition by 2030, the world is not on track to achieve these objectives, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAOs) report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020.

Importantly, the estimates contained in the report are based on the most recent data available in 2019 and do not take into account the pandemic’s impact.

Off track

The Report finds that:

  • In 2019 almost 690 million people, or 8.9 percent of the global population, were undernourished. This reveals that an additional 60 million people have become affected by hunger since 2014. If this trend continues, the number of undernourished people will exceed 840 million by 2030.
  • The world is not on track to achieve Zero Hunger (SDG, 2.1), even without the negative effects that COVID-19. Preliminary projections based on the latest available global economic outlooks, suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may add an additional 83 to 132 million people to the ranks of the undernourished in 2020.
  • Globally, the burden of malnutrition in all its forms remains a challenge. In 2019, 21.3 percent (144.0 million) of children under 5 years of age were stunted (too short for their age), 6.9 percent (47.0 million) wasted (dangerously thin) and 5.6 percent (38.3 million) overweight (Body weight that is above normal for height).

Food insecurity worsens diet quality

  • The nutritional status of the most vulnerable population groups is likely to deteriorate further due to the health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.
  • Food insecurity can worsen diet quality and consequently increase the risk of various forms of malnutrition, potentially leading to undernutrition as well as overweight and obesity.

Healthy diets are unaffordable

  • While the world still faces significant challenges in just accessing food, challenges are even more important in terms of accessing healthy diets.
  • Healthy diets are unaffordable to many people, especially the poor, in every region of the world. The most conservative estimate shows they are unaffordable for more than three billion people in the world. Healthy diets are estimated to be, on average, five times more expensive than diets that meet only dietary energy needs through a starchy staple.
  • The cost of a healthy diet exceeds average food expenditures in most countries in the Global South. More than 57 percent or more of the population throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia cannot afford a healthy diet.

Hidden costs

  • Under current food consumption patterns, diet-related health costs linked to mortality and non-communicable diseases are projected to exceed USD 1.3 trillion per year by 2030. On the other hand, the diet-related social cost of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with current dietary patterns is estimated to be more than USD 1.7 trillion per year by 2030.
  • Shifting to healthy diets can contribute to reducing health and climate-change costs by 2030, because the hidden costs of these healthy diets are lower compared to those of current consumption patterns. The adoption of healthy diets is projected to lead to a reduction of up to 97 percent in direct and indirect health costs and 41–74 percent in the social cost of GHG emissions in 2030.

Poverty on the rise

Meanwhile, another new report finds COVID-19 is projected to push more than 70 million extra people into extreme poverty, and hundreds of millions more into unemployment and poverty.

The report,  The parlous state of poverty eradication, was released in early July by the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston.

Alston notes that poor people and marginalised communities have been the hardest hit in almost every country, both in terms of vulnerability to the virus and its economic consequences. He finds more than 250 million people are at risk of acute hunger.

New approach needed

Alston calls for a recalibration of the SDGs as the pandemic means they won’t be met by 2030. 

He targets the international community’s pre-COVID “abysmal record on eliminating poverty, inequality and disregard for human life” and argues for a new approach to poverty eradication:

 “…that tackles inequality, embraces redistribution, and takes tax justice seriously. Poverty is a political choice and it will be with us until its elimination is reconceived as a matter of social justice.”

Meanwhile, in related news, here is an open letter from Millionaires for Humanity (in case any Croakey readers have deep pockets).

PostScript: Dietary comparisons

Croakey readers may be interested in these graphics from the FAO report.