Asia lags behind pre-pandemic levels of food security, UN food agency says


BANGKOK — Hunger remains a chronic problem in Asia, with 55 million more people undernourished in 2022 than before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization says in its latest assessment of food security in the region.

Most of those living without enough to eat are in South Asia, and women tend to be less food secure than men, the report says.

The FAO’s study focuses on food supply, consumption and dietary energy needs and is designed to capture a state of chronic energy deprivation that stunts growth and saps productivity and quality of life.

The share of people in the region suffering from such undernourishment fell to 8.4% in 2022 from 8.8% the year before. But that’s higher than the 7.3% of people who were undernourished before the pandemic began, sending some economies into a tailspin and depriving millions of people of their livelihoods.

Natural disasters and disruptions to food supplies, often linked to climate change, have added to those pressures.

The FAO data show the share of people in the region facing moderate food insecurity, uncertain of their ability to obtain food and having to sometimes eat less or poorer food due to a lack of money, or those experiencing hunger that puts their well-being at serious risk, still hovers near 30% for the world and above 25% for Asia and the Pacific.

The problem is worst for women: more than one in five women in Asia, excluding East Asia, face moderate or severe food insecurity. The rates are slightly lower for men in most regions, but in Southern Asia the gap grows to more than 42% for women and more than 37% for men.

Higher food, fuel, fertilizer and livestock feed prices mean that progress has stagnated after the pandemic reversed a longstanding trend beginning in the early 2000s toward alleviation of hunger.

It’s a global problem, made worse by disruptions to supplies of grain, edible oil and fertilizer partly due to the war in Ukraine.

Worldwide, the number of people having precarious access to food rose to nearly 2.4 billion in 2022 from just over 1.6 billion in 2015, the report said.

In Africa, the United Nations says at least three of every four Africans can’t afford a healthy diet because of an “unprecedented food crisis.”

More than half of the 735 million people who are nourished worldwide live in the Asia-Pacific, most of them in South Asia. But North Korea has the largest regional share of people who are undernourished, the report says, at about 45%, followed by Afghanistan at 30%.

The world average for undernourishment is 9.2%, while in the Pacific islands of Oceania, excluding Australia and New Zealand, it was nearly 21%, or more than one in five people. In Southern Asia, about 16% of people are undernourished, the report says.



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