The gradual progress the world has made in reducing hunger and malnutrition since the turn of the century has been a powerful illustration of the value of development aid. But that progress has always been uneven, and new figures suggest it may even have stalled. Today, more than 820 million people are going hungry in the world, according to a new United Nations report. It shows that the number of people with not enough to eat has risen for the third year in a row, with notable increases in Africa, part of the Middle East and in Latin America.
A further two billion people, including many in Europe and the US, lack access to healthy food, putting them at risk of obesity, stunting and other health problems, according to the UN's State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report. For all governments, the findings show the need for a much broader view that encompasses not only the production of more food but focuses on variety, availability, price and public education.
For the developing world, however, the figures are particularly alarming. They suggest that reaching the target of zero hunger by 2030 will be extremely difficult. Climate change is affecting agriculture, with the number of farms in decline and related shifts in the way food is produced and distributed. In countries where economic growth is lagging, violence is prevalent or income inequality is high, the problem is particularly acute.
Meanwhile, the world's capacity to mobilise is compromised by a big shortfall in foreign aid, meaning there is substantially less money available for humanitarian assistance than there was last year. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently reported that foreign aid this year was down 2.7 per cent on last year, while the Norwegian Refugee Council reports that aid agencies have received less than a third of the money needed to provide for people affected by crises around the world.
The progress in reducing hunger rates was the result of a sustained global focus backed up with resources. Unless that focus is maintained, progress will be reversed.