UN says Asia lags behind pre-pandemic levels of food security

Climate change-related natural disasters have added to food insecurity around the world.

Climate change-related natural disasters have added to food insecurity around the world. Photo: AP

Hunger remains a chronic problem in Asia, with 55 million more people undernourished in 2022 than before the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN says.

Most of those living without enough to eat are in south Asia, and women tend to be less food secure than men, the annual assessment by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation found.

The FAO’s study focuses on food supply, consumption and dietary energy needs and is designed to capture a state of chronic energy deprivation that stunts growth and saps productivity and quality of life.

The share of people in the region suffering from such undernourishment fell to 8.4 per cent in 2022 from 8.8 per cent the year before.

But that’s higher than the 7.3 per cent of people who were undernourished before the pandemic began, sending some economies into a tailspin and depriving millions of people of their livelihoods.

Natural disasters and disruptions to food supplies, often linked to climate change, have added to those pressures.

The FAO data show the share of people in the region facing moderate food insecurity, uncertain of their ability to obtain food and having to sometimes eat less or poorer food due to a lack of money, or those experiencing hunger that puts their wellbeing at serious risk, still hovers near 30 per cent for the world and above 25 per cent for Asia and the Pacific.

The problem is worst for women.

More than one in five women in Asia, excluding east Asia, face moderate or severe food insecurity.

The rates are slightly lower for men in most regions, but in southern Asia the gap grows to more than 42 per cent for women and more than 37 per cent for men.

Higher food, fuel, fertiliser and livestock feed prices mean that progress has stagnated after the pandemic reversed a long-standing trend beginning in the early 2000s toward alleviation of hunger.

It’s a global problem, made worse by disruptions to supplies of grain, edible oil and fertiliser partly due to the war in Ukraine.

Worldwide, the number of people having precarious access to food rose to nearly 2.4 billion in 2022 from just over 1.6 billion in 2015, the report said.

In Africa, the United Nations says at least three of every four Africans can’t afford a healthy diet because of an “unprecedented food crisis”.

More than half of the 735 million people who are undernourished worldwide live in the Asia-Pacific, most of them in south Asia.

But North Korea has the largest regional share of people who are undernourished, the report says, at 45 per cent, followed by Afghanistan at 30 per cent.

The world average for undernourishment is 9.2 per cent, while in the Pacific islands of Oceania, excluding Australia and New Zealand, it was nearly 21 per cent, or more than one in five people.

In southern Asia, about 16 per cent of people are undernourished, the report says.


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