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Pandemic sees 161 million more people fall into hunger in 2020

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By Luke Hurst
File photo of food aid from the World Food Program (WFP) in Mogadishu, Somalia
File photo of food aid from the World Food Program (WFP) in Mogadishu, Somalia   -   Copyright  AP/AP2011
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There was a “dramatic worsening of world hunger” last year, the United Nations said on Monday, with the coronavirus pandemic likely a cause.

The UN agencies estimated around one-tenth of the global population - some 811 million people - were undernourished in 2020.

This is up from 8.4 per cent in 2019, a rate that outpaces population growth.

That’s up to 161 million more people who fell into hunger in 2020

With a World Food Programme goal of ending world hunger by 2030, which was adopted in 2015 by the global community, the figures “suggest it will take a tremendous effort for the world to honour its pledge”, the report states.

In its annual The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report - the first published in the COVID-19 era - the UN said “the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten the lives and livelihoods of people around the world”.

The report is jointly published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The authors said 2021 “offers a unique opportunity for advancing food security and nutrition through transforming food systems with the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the COP26 on climate change.”

The agency says that world hunger had started creeping upwards in the mid-2010s.

As of 2020 more than half of all undernourished people live in Asia (418 million), more than a third in Africa (282 million) and a smaller proportion in Latin America and the Caribbean (60 million).

Food insecurity rises in Europe

In North America and Europe food insecurity also rose for the first time since 2014.

In 2020 8.8 per cent of the population of North America and Europe was moderately or severely food insecure, compared with 7.7 per cent in 2019.

The lowest levels of food insecurity in these regions are in Northern and Western Europe, where about 4 per cent of the population is affected by moderate or severe food insecurity.

This was actually a decrease on 2019 numbers.

In North America and southern Europe however, moderate or severe food insecurity rose slightly from 2019 to 2020, reaching 7.8 and 9.2 per cent respectively.

A notable rise in moderate or severe food insecurity was observed in Eastern Europe, the agency said.