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UN: Global hunger is rising, returning to levels seen a decade ago

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UN: Global hunger is rising, returning to levels seen a decade ago

Efforts to decrease malnourishment in Asia have stalled, the UN warned.
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REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
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For the third year in a row the number of hungry people in the world grew last year, a UN report warned on Tuesday.

One in nine people worldwide, or 821 million people, went hungry in 2017 — six million more than the year before, according to the United Nations' State of Food Security Nutrition in the World 2018.

The UN warns that this is the third increase in three years and that hunger levels are now returning to levels from a decade ago.

It also highlights that poor progress has been made on reducing child stunting — when a child's growth and development is impaired by poor nutrition and repeated infection — with nearly 151 million children aged under five deemed too short for their age. In 2012, there were 165 million.

At the other end of the spectrum, obesity is also worsening, with more than one in eight adults in the world considered obese. Food-insecure families may have a higher risk of overweight and obesity because of the higher cost of nutritious food and the stress of living with food insecurity, the UN explains.

Changes in climate part of the problem

Conflict and economic slowdowns are some of the drivers behind the rise in hunger, according to the UN, but so are changes in climate, including climate extremes such as droughts and floods which affect agricultural seasons.

The prevalence and number of undernourished people tend to be higher in countries exposed to climate extremes and where a higher proportion of the population depends on agricultural systems.

According to the report, hunger is worsening in South America and most regions of Africa. In Asia, the decreasing trend in undernourishment is slowing down significantly.

The adult obesity problem is also most significant in Asia and Africa, but also in North America, and all are experiencing an upward trend.

The report called for policies targeting particularly-at-risk groups and a move towards nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems that can provide safe and high-quality food for all. It also called for greater efforts to build climate resilience.

The heads of some UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF, World Food Programme, World Health Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development said "there is considerable work to be done" to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030.

“If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems and people’s livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes,” they said.