The Asia Pacific region saw about 375.8 million people facing hunger (food insecurity) in 2020 at times of Covid 19 pandemic, which is nearly 54 million more people than in 2019.
More than 1.1 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020, an increase of almost 150 million people in just one year, said a joint UN agency report published on December 15. The analysis noted that about 1.8 billion people in the region do not have access to healthy diets because of high cost of a healthy diet and persistently high levels of poverty and income inequality.
In the report, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) point out that the pre-existing food security and nutrition situation in the region in 2019 was already quite discouraging. In 2020, the progress had been stalled and since then the situation has worsened. While it is not yet possible to fully quantify the impact of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the report mentions that it had had a serious impact across the region.
FAO Assistant Director General and Regional Representative Jong-Jin Kim and UNICEF acting Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific Marcoluigi Corsi said this in the forward to the report. “Even countries that initially reported a limited number of COVID-19 cases experienced the negative effects of the containment measures, combined with people’s health concerns, that led to a major contraction of economic activity around the globe,” they said.
The agencies said that the world should focus on building back better, future agri-food systems to provide better production, better nutrition, better environment and better livelihoods. “Our focus must revolve around the needs of small-scale family farmers in the region, as well as the needs of other vulnerable groups such as indigenous people, women and youth. These are the people that produce the nutritious food that everyone needs to eliminate malnutrition,” the report said.
“This year there are opportunities to begin the hard work of advancing food security and nutrition through transforming agri-food systems such as the United Nations Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. We must leverage the commitments made during these events to meet the second Sustainable Development Goal and eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition,” the UN officials said.
- By disrupting economic and livelihood activities, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a dramatic economic downturn in Asia and the Pacific and exacerbated hunger and food insecurity.
- Economic downturns and contractions had a larger effect on the affordability of food than did increased food prices.
- Progress in reducing undernourishment in Asia and the Pacific slowed during the past few years, and the number of undernourished increased substantially (17 percent) between 2019 and 2020
- Nearly 23 percent of children in the region are still stunted. Ten countries in the
region have a “very high prevalence” of stunting
- The overall percentage of overweight children in the region is lower than the global average of 5.7 percent, but the percentage increased from 4.2 percent to 5 percent between 2000 and 2020
- The prevalence of adult obesity in the region (6.1 percent) is lower than the global prevalence of 13.1 percent, but adult obesity is rising across every country in the region.
- The prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding in the region has been increasing in
nearly all countries in the region.