Asia-Pacific Houses Half of the World’s Hungry People

Wed Dec 13 2023
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GENEVA: A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reveals a concerning trend of rising undernourishment in the Asia-Pacific region post-COVID-19, affecting approximately 55 million more people than before the pandemic.

Southern Asia emerges as the most affected subregion, hosting about half of the world’s undernourished and food-insecure individuals.

Titled “Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2023 – Statistics and Trends,” the report attributes this surge in undernourishment to a combination of higher food, feed, and fuel prices coupled with a sluggish recovery from the global pandemic. The Asia-Pacific region, home to half of the global total undernourished population, continues to grapple with the long-term effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

The study underscores gender disparities in nutrition, noting that women, except in Eastern Asia, experience higher levels of food insecurity than men across subregions. Approximately one-tenth of women face severe food insecurity, while nearly one-fourth grapple with moderate food insecurity. Anemia rates among women of reproductive age fall short of global nutrition targets, and prevalence rates of stunting, wasting, and obesity in children under five are on the rise.

Southern Asia stands out with the highest percentage of children under five affected by wasting, reaching 14.3 percent in 2022, surpassing the global average. The “5Fs” crisis—food, feed, fuel, fertilizers, and finance—during the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast a shadow over the region, with lasting impacts.

The report emphasizes the exacerbating impact of higher food, fuel, fertilizers, and animal feed prices on malnutrition and food security. The cost of a healthy diet in the Asia-Pacific region rose by an average of 5.3 percent in purchasing power parity, estimated at 4.15 purchasing power parity dollars per person per day. Alarmingly, the cost of a healthy diet was deemed unaffordable for 232.8 million people in the region, constituting 85 percent of the total undernourished population.

Despite a modest improvement of 80.4 million people from 2020, there were still 1.9 billion individuals in the region unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021. Undernourishment in Asia and the Pacific slightly decreased to 8.4 percent in 2022, down from 8.8 percent the previous year but remained 55 million higher than in 2019, pre-COVID-19.

Southern Asia recorded the highest number of people (1.4 billion) unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021, emphasizing the region’s urgent challenges in addressing food security and malnutrition. South-eastern Asia follows closely with 357.4 million people facing difficulties, an increase of 8.4 million from 2020.

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