A nurse weighs a child in front of its mother at St. Luke Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Reuters
If there is one horrible thing – among the many terrible consequences – that the coronavirus has inflicted on humanity, it is that it has made more people undernourished. World hunger and levels of malnutrition soared dramatically last year, mostly due to the coronavirus, according to a UN report.
The number of undernourished people rocketed beyond 750 million last year, equivalent to 10% of the world’s populace.
The report is the first to highlight the extent of the perilous situation food security is in.
The pandemic has only served to expose chinks in the security of the food systems, the agencies said in a joint statement.
Net result: the UN sustainable development goal of zero hunger by 2030 will be missed by a margin of nearly 660 million people.
Glaring disparities in wealth are only making the situation worse.
Unfortunately, food insecurity has been going north since the mid-2010s, especially in countries affected by conflict, climate extremes, economic downturns, or battling high income inequality.
However, what is hurting or slowing the battle against malnutrition is climate change. Children in developing nations where temperatures are rising are eating a poorer diet.
Higher temperatures often have considerable influence over the quality of the food, according to another report.
Warming temperatures and increasing rainfall variability could impact, whether in the short or long term, child diet diversity, potentially undermining widespread development intervention aimed at improving food security, the report said.
What is also acutely bothersome is that undernourishment can also cause stunted growth.
The issue that the problem of malnutrition is vastly under-appreciated, largely because poor nutrition is often mistaken for a lack of food.
In reality malnutrition and its irreversible health consequences also affect countries such as India where access to food is unequal and nutritional content can be low.
To make matters worse comes a damning report by Oxfam, the charitable outfit that 11 people are dying of hunger every minute. What’s even more condemnable and disturbing is the fact that the number of people facing famine-like situations worldwide has spiralled six times over the last year.
The humanitarian group also said that over 150 million people around the world now live at abysmal levels of food insecurity – about 20 million more than the previous year.
What’s more damning is the fact that armed conflict has only made things more precarious. Two-thirds go hungry because of war. A conflict in which there is no let-up, apart from the coronavirus, has pushed half a billion people to the brink of starvation.
Take Ghana, for instance, which is facing acute malnutrition. A 2016 report says that it is a country where one-third of child deaths can be attributed to lack of nourishment.
According to USAID, roughly 1.2 million Ghanaians deal with food insecurity, which particularly affects women and children. Malnutrition is leaving a trail of damage among the vulnerable sections of society.
In one initiative, soy milk provisions are helping tackle malnutrition in the country.
While child death is certainly the most damning symptom of malnutrition in Ghana, undernourishment in children makes a dent of $2.6 billion each year.
Five years ago, Brazil undertook a mission to curb considerably the issue of child stunting. It realised that inadequate access to food and ropy care for children and women were among the key causes.
It crafted policies for the poor between 1995 and 2006. This involved ensuring better income distribution and increased access to services.
Income distribution was a key element of the policies. Families with income below the poverty line receive a monthly stipend which puts them above the poverty line.