by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor
In a damning revelation, the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, jointly published by five United Nations specialized agencies, exposes the harrowing reality facing our world. Shockingly, over 122 million additional individuals have been thrust into the clutches of hunger since 2019. A dire combination of the pandemic, relentless climate shocks, and merciless conflicts, including the devastating war in Ukraine, has driven this staggering surge.
As alarm bells ring louder than ever, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Food Programme (WFP) deliver an urgent warning: the noble ambition of eradicating hunger by 2030, enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals, is slipping through our fingers, lost amidst the abyss of broken promises and inaction.
The wake-up call resounds with painful clarity. The 2023 edition of the report unveils an appalling truth—a reality where between 691 and 783 million people grappled with hunger in 2022, a mid-range estimate of 735 million. This figure represents a staggering increase of 122 million souls compared to the pre-pandemic era of 2019. While global hunger numbers may have momentarily stalled between 2021 and 2022, pockets of our world are mired in deepening food crises. In Asia and Latin America, glimmers of progress flicker faintly, but in Western Asia, the Caribbean, and every subregion of Africa, hunger relentlessly tightens its grip. Africa stands as the worst-affected continent, where one in five people stares hunger in the face, more than double the global average.
The report’s unveiling at the United Nations Headquarters in New York was accompanied by a somber and impassioned plea from UN Secretary-General António Guterres. His words resound through the halls of power, urging an intense and immediate global effort to salvage the Sustainable Development Goals from the brink of failure. “We must build resilience against the crises and shocks that drive food insecurity—from conflict to climate,” Guterres implores, his message ringing clear that our path forward must be one of unyielding determination.
Foreworded by the heads of the five UN agencies—FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, IFAD President Alvaro Lario, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell, WFP’s Executive Director Cindy McCain, and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus—the report underscores the enormity of the challenge ahead. “No doubt, achieving the Sustainable Development Goal target of Zero Hunger by 2030 poses a daunting challenge,” they declare solemnly. Projections indicate that almost 600 million people will still be plagued by hunger in 2030—a stark reminder of our collective failure and the urgent need for unprecedented action. The report leaves no room for doubt—food insecurity and malnutrition, once considered exceptional, are now our despicable “new normal.”
Yet, hunger extends far beyond the confines of empty stomachs. The report reveals a grim reality where approximately 2.4 billion people, amounting to 29.6 percent of the global population, endure constant food insecurity, with around 900 million individuals facing the torment of severe food insecurity. Moreover, the ability to access nourishing diets has deteriorated worldwide. A staggering 3.1 billion people, or 42 percent of the global population, grapple with the heart-wrenching reality of being unable to afford a healthy diet. This represents an alarming increase of 134 million people since 2019—a damning indictment of our societal failure.
Even more distressing is the plight of innocent children. In 2022, a horrifying 148 million children under the age of five, constituting 22.3 percent of that vulnerable group, suffered from stunting, their growth stymied by chronic malnutrition. Tragically, 45 million of these young souls endured wasting, while an additional 37 million suffered the scourge of obesity. While exclusive breastfeeding rates have shown some progress, with 48 percent of infants under six months benefiting from this practice, much more concerted effort is required to achieve the malnutrition targets set for 2030.
The report shines a piercing light on the urbanization megatrend, one that profoundly influences the way people eat and live. With projections indicating that nearly 70 percent of the global population will reside in cities by 2050, policymakers and stakeholders must confront this complex reality head-on. The archaic notion of a simple rural-urban divide is no longer sufficient to grasp the intricate interplay between urbanization and agrifood systems. A comprehensive rural-urban continuum perspective is imperative, accounting for the degree of connectivity and diverse relationships between urban and rural areas.
For the first time, the report systematically documents this transformative urbanization process across eleven countries. Startling findings emerge, revealing the significance of food purchases not only among urban households but also throughout the rural-urban continuum, encompassing even those residing far from urban centers. The research unearths another troubling revelation: the consumption of highly processed foods is steadily rising in peri-urban and rural areas of select nations. Regrettably, spatial inequalities persist, with food insecurity disproportionately affecting those living in rural regions. A heartbreaking 33 percent of adults in rural areas suffer from moderate or severe food insecurity, compared to 26 percent in urban locales. Similarly, children’s malnutrition exhibits distinct urban and rural variations, with higher rates of stunting and wasting prevailing in rural areas, while urban centers grapple with a slightly higher prevalence of overweight children.
The time for empty promises and half-hearted commitments has long passed. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report of 2023 serves as a resounding call to action, urging governments, organizations, and individuals to transcend the confines of rhetoric and embark upon an unwavering mission to end hunger, once and for all. Let this be the moment we collectively rise to the occasion, challenging the very foundations of our agrifood systems, and forging a future where no child, woman, or man knows the bitter torment of an empty stomach. The path to a world free from hunger is arduous, but history has taught us that the strength of our will and the depth of our compassion can overcome even the most daunting of challenges. It is time to act with the urgency and determination this crisis demands—for the sake of our shared humanity.