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Illustration by Security Management

Global Report Finds 135 Million Living with 'Acute Food Insecurity'

An annual report on food insecurity and malnutrition indicated that by the end of 2019, 135 million people in 55 countries and regions were living in acute food insecurity. Acute food insecurity, different from chronic hunger, is when a person's inability to consume adequate food puts their lives or livelihoods in immediate danger.

The finding was part of the annual Global Report on Food Crises by the Food and Agriculture Organizaiton of the United Nations (FAO), the European Union, the World Food Programme, and 12 other partners. 

Within these 55 countries identified by the report, approximately 75 million children's growth was stunted because of chronic malnutrition and 17 million suffered from wasting because of acute malnutrition in 2019. The authors wrote that these were the highest numbers of food insecurity and malnutriton seen since the report's first edition in 2017.

The scope of the food crisis was most notable in Africa (73 million), followed by the Middle East and Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. 

Given that the report's data and analyses were wrapped up prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it noted that the most significant reasons for acute food insecurity were conflict, weather extremes, and economic turbulence.

Speaking to the UN's Security Council, FAO Director General Qu Dongyu noted that the correlation between conflict and increasing acute food insecurity shows a value in an early warning system, followed by quick action to curb food insecurity triggered by conflicts. 

“We need prevention, as the forecasts for food security in 2020 look bleak,” he said. He also advocated for strengthening industry supply chains. 

The novel coronavirus could create additional hardships for people; the 183 million in  “stressed” food insecurity conditions could easily slide into acute food insecurity due to the pandemic. 

“The pandemic may well devastate livelihoods and food security, especially in fragile contexts and particularly for the most vulnerable people working in the informal agricultural and non-agricultural sectors,” the report said. “...While COVID-19 does not discriminate, the 55 countries and territories that are home to 135 million acutely food-insecure people in need of urgent humanitarian food and nutrition assistance are the most vulnerable to the consequences of this pandemic as they have very limited or no capacity to cope with either the health or socioeconomic aspects of the shock. These countries may face an excrutiating trade-off between saving lives or livelihoods or, in a worst-case scenario, saving people from the corona virus to have them die of hunger.”

Additionally, the pandemic could increase acute food insecurity levels in other countries.