Climate extremes fuelling global hunger and food crises

The number of hungry people in the world is growing, reaching 821 million in 2017 or one in every nine people, according to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018, published this week.

Limited progress is also being made in addressing the multiple forms of malnutrition, ranging from child stunting to adult obesity, putting the health of hundreds of millions of people at risk, according to the annual UN report.

The new analysis also “sends a clear message that climate variability and extremes – in addition to conflict and violence in some parts of the world – are a key driver behind the recent rises in global hunger and one of the leading causes of severe food crises”.

The heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned in their joint foreword that: “In addition to conflict and violence in many parts of the world, the gains made in ending hunger and malnutrition are being eroded by climate variability and exposure to more complex, frequent and intense climate extremes.”

Scaled-up actions across sectors are needed to strengthen the resilience of livelihoods and food systems to climate variability and extremes, the authors said. If not, the goals of ending hunger and malnutrition in all forms by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal Targets 2.1 and 2.2) as well as other goals – such as taking action to combat climate change and its impacts (SDG13) – will “remain elusive”.

Poor progress has been made in reducing child stunting, the report says, with nearly 151 million children aged under five too short for their age due to malnutrition in 2017, compared to 165 million in 2012. Globally, Africa and Asia accounted for 39% and 55% of all stunted children, respectively.

The report describes as "shameful" the fact that one in three women of reproductive age globally is affected by anaemia, which has significant health and development consequences for both women and their children.

Adult obesity is also “worsening”, and more than one in eight adults in the world is obese. The problem is most significant in North America, but Africa and Asia are also experiencing an upward trend, the report shows.

The authors noted how under nutrition and obesity coexist in many countries, and can even be seen “side by side in the same household”.

Policies must pay special attention to groups who are the most vulnerable to the harmful consequences of poor food access: infants, children aged under five, school-aged children, adolescent girls and and women. At the same time, a sustainable shift must be made towards “nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems that can provide safe and high-quality food for all”.

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