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

The Global Report on Food Crises, 2021 (GRFC 2021) has revealed that in 2020, over 15.5 crore people in 55 countries experienced acute food insecurity, an increase of around 2 crore people from 2019

UN Report Reveals How The Global Food Crisis Is Worsening Due To COVID-19, Conflicts And Climate Change
  • To tackle food crisis in India, food security must be universalised: Expert
  • 2 out 3 people facing food insecurity are from African continent: UN Report
  • Addressing hunger is foundation for stability, peace: UN Secretary General

New Delhi: Over one year after the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic the situation of food security in 2021 and beyond is grim, according to the Global Network Against Food Crisis (GNAFC), an international alliance of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the European Union (EU). In its annual report Global Report on Food Crises, 2021 (GRFC 2021), the global network has highlighted that apart from the economic shock caused by the pandemic, conflicts and extreme weather are continuing to push millions of people into acute food insecurity. It has warned that the global goal of achieving ‘‘zero hunger’ by 2030 is becoming increasingly out of reach.

Also Read: United Nations Report Says 17% Of Food Wasted At Consumer Level

COVID-19 Has Revealed The Fragility Of The Global Food System: Global Report On Food Crises, 2021

The report said that at least 15.5 crore people experienced acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels across 55 countries/territories (India not included) in 2020, marking an increase of around 2 crore people from the previous year. According to FAO, acute food insecurity is a state when a person’s inability to consume adequate food puts their lives or livelihoods in immediate danger.

GRFC 2021 said that the magnitude and severity of food crises last year worsened in comparison to the previous five years and there is an urgent need of life-saving interventions in these 55 countries that includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, various African countries, Jordan, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, the Syria Arab Republic among others. Some of the other major findings of the report are:

– Countries in Africa remained disproportionally affected by acute food insecurity and two out of three people facing acute food crisis are on the continent of Africa.
– The most severe phase of acute food insecurity has affected over 1.33 lakh people in 2020 in Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen where urgent action was needed to prevent deaths.
– Another 2.8 crore people across 38 countries were one just step away from starvation in 2020 and urgent action in these countries saved lives and livelihoods and prevented famine from spreading.
– In the 55 food-crisis countries covered by the report, 7.5 crore children under five are stunted (too short) and over 1.5 crore were wasted (too thin) in 2020.

While conflict will remain the major driver of food crises in 2021, COVID-19 and related containment measures and weather extremes will continue to exacerbate acute food insecurity in fragile economies. There is a need for more equitable, sustainable and resilient systems to nutritiously and consistently feed 8.5 billion people by 2030 to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of ‘zero hunger’, said the report.

According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, counties are required to act urgently and decisively to mobilise against hunger. On the finding of the report, Mr Guterres said,

Conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing. We need to tackle hunger and conflict together. We must do everything we can to end this vicious cycle. Addressing hunger is a foundation for stability and peace.

While talking about the warnings given by the report on food crises facing the world, Basanta Kumar Kar, International Development Professional in Nutrition, said that ‘malnutrition’ is the ‘whistle blower’ of a country as it signals a broken food system. He said,

The Global Food Crises 2021 has reminded that we are living in a world of three invisible that are impacting the overall life of the people – the voiceless vulnerable people, the novel coronavirus and malnutrition. The report underpins investment on nutrition especially in South Asia and African countries. Increasing evidence suggests that malnutrition increases susceptibility to infections; and infectious diseases also cause malnutrition; resulting in a vicious cycle of poverty, morbidity and mortality. The post-COVID world calls for a malnutrition free world.

He recommended that countries with severely affected malnourished children should revitalise their Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres and other such institutions for timely referral, treatment, care and support.

Also Read: COVID-19 Pandemic Impact On Women And Their Struggle To Feed Their Families

Should India Be Worried About Food Insecurity?

According to Dr Shweta Khandelwal, Head, Nutrition Research, Public Health Foundation of India, the food crisis across the world and even in India is going to worsen this year because the pandemic is affecting global poverty and food security and nutrition, food trade and supply chains, gender, employment, and a variety of policy interventions, as well as reflections on how lessons from the current situation can be used to prepare for future emergencies in a better way. So, the country which already has a high burden of malnutrition and hunger must worry about the state of food crisis in the coming days. She said,

Global predictions have emphasized the high risk to global progress against malnutrition due to the range of challenges unleashed by COVID-19. Risks to progress on maternal and child undernutrition are anticipated to be the most devastating in regions such as South Asia, which already carry the world’s highest burden of undernutrition.

She asserted that a dangerous decline can be expected in dietary quality in low and middle-income countries stemming from income losses due to COVID-19 induced restriction.

Apart from food, there are other factors also that further worsen the food crisis like lack of access to maternal care, immunization, micronutrient supplementation, high prevalence of diarrhoea, infections among others, Dr Khandelwal said.

Dr Khandelwal has recommended that the following measures can help the country to tackle the food crisis facing it to some extent and strengthen the food system:

– The government should engage and leverage the expertise and finances of the healthcare system for food and nutrition.
– It has become more urgent than ever to subsidise healthy food and disincentivise unhealthy food.
– With the unbelievable fragmentation of the food system in the country and the nutrition response that COVID has laid bare, it is time to consolidate and invest in a coherent response to multiple forms of malnutrition. This will require the government and experts to work closely with several sectors (health and non-health).
– Food system innovations are critical and urgently needed especially around enhancing local production and consumption so that nutrient-rich foods are available at less cost for a longer duration.
– Social advocacy should be used more aggressively and smartly to stimulate demand for protective nutrient-rich foods and to encourage appropriate infant and young child feeding practices, including optimal breastfeeding and diet diversity practices.
– Community-based management of acute malnutrition should be supported and ramped up. This may require capacity building and strengthening of residents who may act as a supplemental force to the overstrained frontline healthcare and nutrition workers in the field.

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

Dr Dipa Sinha, Right to Food Activist and Assistant Professor (Economics), Ambedkar University believes that one of the best ways to combat the food crisis in the country is to make the Public Distribution System (PDS) universal. PDS which is a system of the Government of India for distributing food grains to the economically poor people proved to be a lifeline for many when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country and during the subsequent lockdown. Even today, the system is helping in providing some relief in terms of food security to people in need. However, Dr Sinha has pointed out that with the availability of sufficient food grains in the country, it is high time that the government makes PDS accessible to all. She said,

What the UN report has said is not that different from what we have been observing in India as well. The report calls for immediate urgent actions to be taken and to feed people consistently. In India, it is important to urgently add at least 10 crore people with PDS and gradually make it universal. Because of COVID-19 people have lost their source of livelihood and many have been pushed to poverty. This is what we have been observing in the urban areas and with migrant workers returning to their villages, the state of affairs in villages is even worse, especially now as the virus is raging in the rural areas.

Also Read: Union Cabinet Approves Free Foodgrains Under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana Phase 3 For 2 Months

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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