The UN recently announced that after remaining stable for more than five years, the number of undernourished people globally has risen to more than 800 million people — 10% of the world’s population.
Charity organisation Oxfam reported in 2021 that hunger had overtaken the pandemic as the greatest crisis facing the world. As many as 11 people die of hunger and malnutrition every minute, compared with a global Covid-19 death rate of about seven people a minute.
The published report added that an additional 20 million people were pushed into extreme levels of food insecurity, raising the total number affected to 155 million across 55 countries.
The Covid-19 crisis started to unfold at a time when the number of people in urgent need of food assistance around the world was already increasing, according to Mageed Yahia, director of the World Food Program (WFP) in the UAE and its representative to the Gulf Cooperation Council.
“In truth, we already saw this trend change in 2018, largely owing to the effects of proliferating and intensifying man-made conflicts, of climate extremes occurring with greater frequency and intensity, and of economic slowdowns taking hold in many parts,” he told Arab News.
It is estimated that the number of chronically hungry people around the world rose — for a second successive year — to almost 690 million in 2019, prior to the start of the pandemic.
By 2020, this number had climbed to 811 million people as other contributory causes were exacerbated by the effects of Covid-19, which presented the world with a truly global emergency.
Mr. Yahia said that in the past two years, the pandemic has brought economies and supply chains to a halt, destroyed businesses and affected jobs and livelihoods, all while taking a devastating toll on the health and well-being of families and communities around the world.
“As we all continue to count the costs of the fallout, it has been those least able to withstand them that have suffered the most,” he added, referring to the millions of people who were living just above subsistence level before the pandemic hit.
In the Middle East, the number of “poor” people has been driven up by the pandemic and related containment measures to 115 million, accounting for a quarter of the region’s population. A major contributory factor has been a spike in unemployment rates.
In a region where 14 million people were already unemployed, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that about 17 million full-time jobs were lost in the second quarter of 2020.
The situation for families that were already struggling to make ends meet was worsened by localized food shortages and consequent price hikes, leaving people even less able to afford enough food, according to Mr. Yahia.
“These families have had to make hard choices to support themselves, including skipping meals and compromising on the quality and nutrition of what they consume,” he said.
Pandemic or no pandemic, food insecurity is a long-term global challenge. As Laura Petrache, founder of Migrant Integration Lab and author of the book “At the Dawn of Humanity,” points out, it is predicted that the number of hungry people worldwide will keep growing as humanity continues to exert unsustainable pressure on Earth’s ability to produce enough food for its rising population.
“For human beings to live according to the Earth’s limited capacity, fundamental changes to our political and economic systems and our way of life are therefore necessary,” she told Arab News.
Human needs already exceed the absorption and production capacity of the planet’s ecosystems, according to scientists, who say environmental issues such as climate change and ocean acidification are symptoms of a more serious problem.
To be sure, the pandemic is neither the sole nor the biggest driver of hunger around the world.
“I believe that global challenges and new, explosive trends are adding to the complexity of the issue,” said Ms. Petrache. “Denial, blind faith in technological solutions, and the weakness of international environmental agreements are all contributing factors to a global crisis.”
She cites conflict, extreme poverty and the emergence of armed groups as common challenges faced by countries whose populations are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
“At the same time, climate-related droughts and floods have intensified, overwhelming the ability of affected countries to respond before the next disaster hits,” she said. (Source: Arab News)