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World hunger rising and COVID-19 threatens to make it worse, says UN

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A child pictured in February standing between women waiting to receive food parcels in Zimbabwe, where the UN estimates more than half the population is in need of food assist
A child pictured in February standing between women waiting to receive food parcels in Zimbabwe, where the UN estimates more than half the population is in need of food assist   -   Copyright  Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
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The world is slipping further away from a United Nations goal to end global hunger and malnutrition by 2030, a new report has warned.

The annual State of Food Security and Nutrition report has found nearly 690 million people around the world went hungry in 2019.

It represents a rise of 60 million people in five years since the target was first set in 2015.

According to the report, the hungry are most numerous in Asia, but the numbers are growing faster in Africa.

Eliminating hunger is the second of 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations General Assembly that are intended to be achieved by 2030.

Paul Winters from the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome told Euronews that reaching the target looked challenging even before the coronavirus pandemic emerged.

"We were doing quite well and making a lot of progress until six years ago, and then climate change really started to hit," he said.

"In the past, it was just a concept we worried about in the future, but now weather patterns are changing, and there are extreme weather events.

"Even before we got the COVID pandemic we were already seeing an increase in hunger around the world due to climate, conflict and economic slowdowns, and now we have this extra economic slowdown."

But in addition to those going hungry, there are billions of people around the world who cannot afford a healthy diet.

The UN report said 57 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia cannot afford meals that include fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Even North America and Europe, the richest regions of the world, are not spared of people without healthy diets, the report said.

But healthy diets are at least five times more expensive than filling stomachs with mass-produced starch foods like rice and potatoes.

Foods rich in protein and nutrients are the most expensive food groups globally.

Winters said part of the solution is in persuading small-scale family farms to switch to producing higher-value crops: "We know the world's urbanising, there are more supermarkets around the world, and so we can get small-scale family farmers to produce these higher-value crops.

"It'll be good for them — they'll make more money than they would [by] producing maize or rice — [and] it'll be good for the market, it'll lower the price of healthy foods."