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COVID-19 Has Caused One Of The Biggest Increases In World Hunger, Malnutrition In Decades: United Nations

According to the annual ‘The State Of Food Security And Nutrition In The World 2021’ report jointly published by multiple United Nation Agencies, the world was already off track to achieve its goal of eradicating hunger by 2030 but the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed the gains made

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COVID-19 Has Caused One Of The Biggest Increases In World Hunger, Malnutrition In Decades: United Nations
  • Covid caused about 18% increase in the number of people facing hunger: UN
  • One in three people worldwide going hungry, warns UN
  • Covid along with conflict and climate are causing rise in hunger: Report

New Delhi: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage worldwide, there is another crisis facing the globe as one of the fallouts of the ongoing medical emergency, which is the increasing hunger and malnutrition, as per a new global report of the United Nations (UN). According to the UN, the Covid pandemic has caused the biggest increase in the number of people facing hunger in decades. The annual report ‘The State Of Food Security And Nutrition In The World 2021’ published jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), has highlighted that the rise in food insecurity in 2020 was equal to the previous five years combined.

Also Read: Opinion: Responding To Triple Crises Of Environment, COVID-19 Pandemic And Hunger

The report, which was released on July 12 says that the biggest impact of COVID-19 on food security has been on almost all low-and middle-income countries especially those countries where there were climate-related disasters or conflict or both along with economic downturns as a consequence of the pandemic containment measure. According to the report, India is among the five countries that faced economic downturns due to Covid, conflict and climate-related disasters also. The other four are Colombia, Thailand, the Philippines and Sudan.

While the world was already off track to achieve its goal of eradicating hunger by 2030, according to the report, it has now been further pushed back on the little progress made over the years in terms of people’s access to food and nutrition.

Major Findings Of ‘The State Of Food Security And Nutrition In The World’ Report

  1. Although the full impact of the pandemic cannot yet be determined, the report estimated around 11.8 crore more people faced hunger in 2020 than in 2019, an increase of 18 per cent.
  2. In total, about 76.8 crore people in the world faced hunger in 2020.
  3. The report further reveals that nearly one in every three people in the world did not have access to adequate food in 2020 which is an increase of almost 32 crore people in just one year.
  4. It also highlights that in 2020 some 9.9 per cent of all people across the world are estimated to have been undernourished, up from 8.4 per cent in 2019. More than half of the people who faced hunger in 2020 that is 41.8 crore live in Asia, 28.2 crore are in Africa and about 6 crore are in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  5. Around 14.9 crore children younger than the age of five years were have stunted (low height for age) growth, more than 4.5 crore children weighed low compared to their height and nearly 3.9 crore children were overweight, the report noted. These numbers may be higher than the estimates made by the report as nutrition data collection in 2020 was negatively affected due to the social distancing norms, as per the UN agencies.
  6. “A full three billion adults and children remain locked out of healthy diets, largely due to excessive costs,” the UN agencies said in the report.
  7. The report shows that Africa saw the sharpest rise in hunger, with 21 per cent of its population estimated to be undernourished. Africa and Asia account for more than nine out of ten of all children with stunting, more than nine out of ten children with wasting and more than seven out of ten children who are affected by overweight worldwide, the report has highlighted.
  8. The report also talks about the gap in access to food among men and women. It said that for every 10 food-insecure men, there were 11 food-insecure women in 2020, up from 10.6 in 2019. UN agencies have also highlighted in the report that nearly a third of the world’s women of reproductive are suffer from anaemia.
  9. The report warns that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 2 of ending hunger by 2030 is still a distant dream and is likely to be missed by a margin of a significant 66 crore people and adds that about 3 crore of this may be linked to the pandemic’s lasting effects.

Also Read: UN Report Reveals How The Global Food Crisis Is Worsening Due To COVID-19, Conflicts And Climate Change

According to Dr Shweta Khandelwal, Head, Nutrition Research, Public Health Foundation of India, the report reveals also reveals the tragic state of the growing inequalities and vulnerabilities in food systems across the world. She stressed that even one person facing hunger is too much and all the countries where people are facing famine like situation must worry about the present and future food crisis facing them.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities forming in our food systems over recent years as a result of major drivers such as conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic slowdowns and downturns, the report says.

Status Of Malnutrition In India

According to the report, the prevalence of undernutrition among the total population in India was 15.3 per cent during 2018-20 which is significantly low when compared to the global 8.9 per cent during the same period. This is an improvement from the 21.6 per cent during 2004-06.

In the year 2020, about 17.3 per cent of children under the age of five years suffered a wasted growth with low weight for height, the highest among countries.

About 31 per cent of children have low height for age (stunted) which is an improvement from 41.7 per cent in 2012 but is still higher than many other countries in the world.

The country has observed an increase in the prevalence of obesity among the adult population from 3.1 per cent in 2012 to 3.9 per cent in 2016.

As per the report, the prevalence of anaemia among women of reproductive age has only marginally improved from 53.2 per cent in 2012 to 53 per cent in 2019.

The country, however, has made gains in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding among infants of 0-5 months of age from 46.4 per cent in 2012 to 58 per cent in 2019, the report noted.

While talking about the status of malnutrition in India as stated by the State Of Food Security And Nutrition In The World report, Basanta Kumar Kar, International Development Professional in Nutrition said that while the country has made some improvement, there is still a high level of malnutrition in India which signals a need of reforms in food system. He said,

Malnutrition is a slavery. It impairs body, mind and spirit-national security and sovereignty. Like every disaster, this novel pandemic has compounded this slavery multifold. In order to fight malnutrition, it is important to focus on nutrition which can be done by emphasising on consuming locally produced food and by making people self-reliant in food production. Covid has reminded us of the importance of good diet and vegetables, fruits and grains that are produced and consumed locally in the climate and soil optimum to their production is richer in nutrients. The pandemic has called for addressing all forms of malnutrition specifically addressing protein hunger and hidden hunger. This can happen by diversifying agriculture to include animal husbandry, poultry, fishery and promotion of Indian’s heritage food like Nutri- cereals.

Mr Kar further added that historically,  India has been focusing on mitigating calorie hunger and energy inadequacy and this has been possible because of subsidy, incentives and other market-based support on rice and wheat. The country has a rich heritage of nutritious diet, he said adding that the overemphasis on mitigating calorie hunger has diluted India’s food system. He asserted,

“Historically, the disasters and emergencies have been used to push non-evidence-based food and nutrition solutions. The most vulnerable as passive recipients of the dole have been victims. It is necessary to strengthen the social watch process and the government need to be vigilant on such non-evidence-based solutions. The core humanitarian principles prohibit the promotion of commercial interest during emergencies and disasters.”

Also Read: Opinion: What Is The Right Food To Build Immunity?

Way Forward: UN Lays Down Ways The World Can Make Sure Everyone Has Access To Healthy And Nutritious Food

The Unites Nations agencies in the report say that there is a need to bring back food security on track by transforming food systems. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said,

In a world of plenty, we have no excuse for billions to lack access to a healthy diet. Investing in changes in our food systems will initiate a shift to a safer, fairer, more sustainable world. It is one of the smartest and most necessary investments we can make.

He added that despite a 300 per cent increase in global food production since the mid-1960s, malnutrition is a leading factor contributing to reduced life expectancy.

The report has laid down the following six ways in which policymakers around the world can transform food systems and help put healthy diet within the reach of all:

  1. Integrate humanitarian, development and peacebuilding policies in conflict areas – for example, through social protection measures to prevent families from selling meagre assets in exchange for food.
  2. Scale-up climate resilience across food systems – for example, by offering smallholder farmers wide access to climate risk insurance and forecast-based financing.
  3. Strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity – for example, through in-kind or cash support programmes to lessen the impact of pandemic-style shocks or food price volatility.
  4. Intervene along supply chains to lower the cost of nutritious foods – for example, by encouraging the planting of biofortified crops or making it easier for fruit and vegetable growers to access markets.
  5. Tackle poverty and structural inequalities – for example, by boosting food value chains in poor communities through technology transfers and certification programmes.
  6. Strengthen food environments and changing consumer behaviour – for example, by eliminating industrial trans fats and reducing the salt and sugar content in the food supply or protecting children from the negative impact of food marketing.

While the report stresses that the challenge is huge, some momentum towards tackling the food crisis can be built across the globe in the second half of the year with upcoming global events like U.N. Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

Also Read: NITI Aayog Suggests Policy Measures To Ensure Subsidised Foodgrains Supply To Needy

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

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