COVID-19’s hit to food security has been felt worldwide, but some areas were struck harder than others.
Toward the close of 2021—and on the heels of its latest State of Food and Agriculture Report (https://www.growfurther.org/fix-the-dangerous-vulnerabilities-in-smallholder-agriculture-now-fao/)–the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization published a 4-volume series of regional statistical overviews on the state of global food security. The data in these four reports confirm something that food security advocates have been warning about all year: COVID-19 nearly completely reversed decades of progress made on tackling hunger and malnutrition in just two years.
“The world added 162 million to the tally of moderately or severely food insecure people, and 14.4 million of them were from the ECA region.”
Europe and Central Asia
Since 2000, food security had arguably improved the most in parts of the former Soviet Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region. FAO data show 12% of the population of Central Asia undernourished in 2002, rising to 14% in 2003 but falling sharply to 4% by 2011 and continuing to decline until 2014.
But on a broader measure of food security, moderate to severe food insecurity in Central Asia rose from 13.2% to 18% due to the pandemic. “From 2019 to 2020, the world added 162 million to the tally of moderately or severely food insecure people, and 14.4 million of them were from the ECA region,” FAO noted. “The prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in these two subregions has remained high and, in the past two years, has noticeably increased” (https://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/cb7493en).
Asia and the Pacific
The pandemic led to a significant worsening of food insecurity in Asia and Pacific nations. “More than 375 million people in the region faced hunger in 2020, an increase of 54 million over the previous year,” warned FAO’s regional office in Bangkok. “More than 1 billion people did not have access to adequate food in 2020, an increase of almost 150 million people in just one year.”
Within the Asia-Pacific, the impact of the pandemic was worst in South Asia, where undernourishment rose from 13% in 2019 to 16% in 2020. The figures improve only slightly when India is taken out of that equation. Statistics indicate that Afghanistan is the region’s most food-insecure country (https://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/cb7494en).
Near East and North Africa
According to the FAO’s Cairo office, the Middle East and North Africa suffered a 91% increase in hunger since 2000. The pandemic has added to challenges related to wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. “While it is still too early to assess precisely the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nutrition, the deteriorating food security situation suggests that a greater number of people face difficulties in accessing a healthy diet,” the regional report stated. FAO estimates that a little over 20% of children in Arab countries showed signs of stunting, and child wasting is prevalent in the region (https://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/cb7495en).
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic economic downturn in Africa and contributed to the worsening food security situation.”
The African continent is considered the world’s most food insecure, and the global pandemic has only exacerbated the situation there. The number of chronically hungry people in Africa continued to rise over the past two years, which FAO attributes to multiple causes, including “conflict, climate change, and economic slowdowns including those triggered by COVID-19.”
“The most recent estimates show that 281.6 million people on the continent, over one-fifth of the population, faced hunger in 2020, which is 46.3 million more than in 2019,” according to the regional report. FAO data shows the “number of severely food-insecure people” has been holding more or less steady since 2014 in northern and southern Africa while steeply rising in western and eastern Africa from that same year. Food insecurity worsened the most in West Africa, expanding from about 30 million in 2014 to just under 120 million in 2020, with the sharpest increase seen during the pandemic years. “By disrupting economic and livelihood activities, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic economic downturn in Africa and contributed to the worsening food security situation,” FAO warned (https://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/cb7496en).
— Grow Further
Photography credit: Farmers checking a wheat field in Afghanistan. USAID, Creative Commons.