With Coronavirus pandemic having its worst impact on the economy and food prices surging, about two billion people in Asia and the Pacific are deprived of healthy diets, according to the United Nations.
In the annual report “2020 Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition”, the UN said that the poor in the Asia Pacific region were the moist affected and forced to choose cheaper and less nutritious foods.
Food and Agriculture Organization, UN Children’s Fund, World Food Programme and World Health Organization jointly prepared the report. This is the third report on the progress towards Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 2 – Zero Hunger.
The report pointed out that Covid 19 pandemic, lack of decent work opportunities, uncertainty of food systems and markets in several parts worsened inequality of Asia Pacific region. The income of poor families dwindled further, thus leading them to choose cheap and less nutritious foods. In the report, the UN agencies say that the poor people are not able to achieve healthy diet as the prices of vegetables, fruits and dairy products are high. This resulted in slowing on improving nutrition, which is a key target for SDGs. The report notes that over 350 million people in Asia Pacific region are undernourished in 2019. This includes about 745 million children under five stunted and 31.5 million suffering from wasting.
Impact severe in first 1,000 days
The UN said that impact of poor diet was most severe in the first 1,000 days — from pregnancy to when a child reaches two years of age. The world agency called for bringing together health, food, water and sanitation, education systems and social protection to address the underlying factors.
Changing face – malnutrition
The UN agencies in the report also highlighted the “changing face” of malnutrition, with highly processed and inexpensive foods that are readily available in the region. These foods packed with sugar and unhealthy fats and lacking minerals and vitamins only increased the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Achieving the SDGs: The UN Report pointed out that Progress on food security and nutrition slowed down in Asia and Pacific region. It was not on track to achieving 2030 targets.
COVID-19: True impacts on food security and nutrition are yet to be established. The region needs to better prepare for and build resilience to future disasters and pandemics in the wake of the pandemic. The governments need to invest into stronger disaster preparedness, early warning and response systems to build resilience to future disasters and epidemics
Affordability: The UN says that cost of healthy diets was critical for ensuring food security and nutrition for all, especially mothers and children. Integrated approaches and policies are needed to reduce cost of healthy diets and ensure healthy maternal and child diets.
Data: The Governments should invest in regular household based primary data collection, data quality, precision of “right” indicators and timeliness of data for supporting policies and interventions.
Maternal and Child diets: An integrated and coordinated system approach needed.
Food System: The Governments should invest in nutrition and food safety in fresh/street food markets for promoting healthy diets. Regulation of sales and marketing of food for consumers, especially children, is important to curb overweight, obesity and NCDs.
WASH System: Creating hygienic environments at home and in community.