UN’s 2030 ‘zero hunger’ target in peril, Global Hunger Index shows

‘Alarming’ or ‘serious’ levels of hunger identified in 51 countries

“In 2018 alone, 5.3 million children died before their fifth birthdays. Behind each statistic there is a mother struggling to feed her child and not succeeding.” Photograph: Getty Images

“In 2018 alone, 5.3 million children died before their fifth birthdays. Behind each statistic there is a mother struggling to feed her child and not succeeding.” Photograph: Getty Images

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Persisting hunger across the planet is an “immense mountain” that must overcome if the UN sustainable development goal of “zero hunger” is to be realised by 2030, according to the latest Global Hunger Index (GHI).

“Alarming” levels of hunger have been identified in 11 countries and hunger remains at “serious” levels in another 40 countries, with the most acute levels concentrated in Africa, the 2020 GHI finds.

The index is published by Concern Worldwide and its German NGO partner Welthungerhilfe.

Its projections show that 37 countries will fail to achieve even “low” hunger levels by 2030. In many countries the situation “is progressing too slowly or even worsening”, the report adds.

It found “alarming” hunger levels in Chad, Timor-Lest, Madagascar, Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

For 46 countries in the moderate, serious, or alarming categories, GHI scores have improved since 2012 but for 14 countries in those categories scores show hunger and undernutrition have worsened.

The GHI used data from 107 countries to produce a ranking and categorisation of hunger levels using five categories: from low and moderate, to serious, alarming and extremely alarming. The data used for the 2020 report does not yet, however, reflect the damaging effects of Covid-19, but highlights where underlying vulnerabilities to food insecurity already exist.

“Even before Covid-19, the world was already off-track to achieve zero hunger by 2030,” it notes. “That negative trajectory has been forcefully exacerbated by the events of this year . . . a global pandemic, a devastating outbreak of locusts in East Africa, economic downturn affecting every corner of the world.”

Concern Worldwide chief executive Dominic MacSorley warned: “The phenomenal impact of these multiple crises – combined with the ongoing effects of climate change and conflict – is rapidly escalating food and nutrition insecurity for millions, especially for those who were already most vulnerable.

Woeful inadequacies

“Far too many are suffering from hunger and undernutrition. In 2018 alone, 5.3 million children died before their fifth birthdays. The numbers are staggering and are rising. Behind each statistic there is a mother struggling to feed her child and not succeeding. It is shockingly unacceptable especially because it is preventable.”

Meanwhile, Covid-19 had exposed the woeful inadequacies of the world’s food system and its inability to deal with overlapping global and regional crises, Mr MacSorley added.

Experts from the Chatham House policy think tank argue in a commentary in the report that only by taking both an integrated and holistic “one health” approach to human, animal and environmental health will it be possible to achieve zero hunger by 2030.

“Under the current system we are hitting planetary and social boundaries – the ecological ceiling and the social foundation beyond which humans cannot safely and equitably thrive,” authors Robyn Alders, Osman Dar, Richard Kock and Francesco Rampa state. The pandemic and the increasing frequency of the emergence of new infectious diseases and their rapid spread are a manifestation of this, they add.

“Warnings about the emergence of new viral pathogens are nothing new, but the failure to heed or act on those warnings has contributed to the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects.”

At the same time, as predicted, humans’ impacts on the environment are leading to more frequent and severe extreme weather events, biodiversity loss, deforestation and soil degradation, they warn.

“Covid-19 has made it clearer than ever that our food systems, as they stand, are inadequate to address the task of achieving zero hunger,” said Concern’s director of strategy, advocacy and learning, Connell Foley.

Moral failure

“The unprecedented disruptive force of the pandemic has once again laid bare the fragility and inequities of our current globalised food systems, the threat to global health and food security posed by increasing human impacts on the environment and wildlife, and the need to address these challenges in a holistic, ambitious way.”

The current crises must serve as a turning point not only to transform food systems but to end the daily scourge of hunger – “the greatest moral and ethical failure of our generation”, he added.

Food systems contribute 21 to 37 per cent of total net human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases and account for 70 per cent of freshwater use, while agriculture accounts for nearly 40 per cent of global land, the report points out.

Changing lifestyles and diets have led to increased demand for animal-source foods, resulting in intensification of production systems, overcrowding of animals, and increased risk of animal disease and spillovers of disease from animals to humans, it adds.

Current food systems “are inherently unequal and further exacerbate inequalities”. Some food assistance from high-income countries to low-income countries still requires the recipient country to procure food from a restricted number of countries or awards contracts to companies in donor countries “thus weakening local food systems in recipient countries”.

“A considerable share of global food assistance therefore remains an export subsidy masquerading as charity.”

The GHI report recommends that production and supply of food be classified as essential services, while governments must ensure “all required inputs are available for the next and subsequent planting seasons”.

Governments, donors and NGOs should work more closely with community organisations, it urges, so social protection measures (cash transfers, essential healthcare, food transfers, small business grants and public employment schemes) function optimally and fairly.