FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 05

World Hunger Index and Pakistan

The latest reports show that the world is moving further away from its goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. According to the 2022 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, the number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021, an increase of about 46 million since 2020, and 150 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The numbers in the report paint a grim picture of the state of hunger in the world. After remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger jumped in 2020, and continued to rise in 2021, to 9.8% of the world population. This compares with 8% in 2019 and 9.3% in 2020.

Further, around 2.3 billion people in the world (29.3%) were moderately or severely food insecure in 2021 – 350 million more compared to before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 924 million people (11.7% of the global population) faced food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 207 million in two years.

Worse still, the gender gap in food insecurity continued to rise in 2021 —31.9% of women in the world were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6% of men – a gap of more than 4 percentage points, compared with 3 percentage points in 2020. An estimated 45 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition, which increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times. Furthermore, 149 million children under the age of five had stunted growth and development due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diets.

According to UN projections, nearly 670 million people (8% of the world population) will still be facing hunger in 2030 – even if a global economic recovery is taken into consideration. This is a similar number to 2015, when the goal of ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition by the end of this decade was launched under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The ongoing war in Ukraine is worsening the world food situation because it involves two of the biggest global producers of staple cereals, oilseeds and fertilizer. The war is disrupting international supply chains and pushing up the prices of grain, fertilizer, energy, as well as therapeutic food for children with severe malnutrition.

The report notes that worldwide support for the food and agricultural sector averaged almost US$ 630 billion a year between 2013 and 2018. The lion’s share of it goes to individual farmers, but it is not reaching many farmers and does not promote the production of nutritious foods that make up a healthy diet. That’s in part because subsidies often target the production of staple foods, dairy and other animal source foods, especially in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Rice, sugar and meats of various types are the most incentivized food items worldwide, while fruits and vegetables are relatively less supported, particularly in some low-income countries.

With the threats of a global recession looming, a way to support economic recovery involves the repurposing of food and agricultural support to target nutritious foods where per capita consumption does not yet match the recommended levels for healthy diets.

What about Pakistan? According to many surveys, the government’s target of “zero-hunger by 2030” set out in the Agenda for Sustainable Development is not going to be met. The 2021 Global Hunger Index, compiled by leading international aid agencies, put Pakistan at 92 among 116 countries, declaring its hunger level “serious” as 60 percent of its population is food-insecure and 44pc of children under five years of age are chronically malnourished. These were last year’s figures so it’s not very difficult to understand how this year’s record floods and subsequent devastation must have further wrecked the entire sector.

This is a serious setback caused by a toxic combination of factors, including the poverty shock of COVID-19, declining crop yields due to climate change and growing water scarcity in Pakistan. But the real problem is that successive governments in Pakistan have not paid proper attention to the agriculture sector. As a result, the sector’s productivity continued to decline. Tragically, Pakistan, which once exported grains, is now dependent on imports of wheat and edible oils.

The unprecedented floods have dealt a body blow to Pakistan’s agriculture and food security. The raging monsoon waters have destroyed the livelihoods of millions, which has serious long-term implications for food scarcity in the country. A large number of people have lost their lands, livestock and life-savings and they need urgent sustenance, relocation and re-building.

According to experts, the country faces the grim prospect of widespread starvation coupled with a sharp rise in poverty. The challenge calls for a herculean national effort to marshal all our resources and put them to the best possible use. The focal point of all our planning should be a revival of our agriculture which remains the mainstay of our economy.