More than half of the world’s hungry people are Asians

Arvind Jayaram

ANN / THE STRAITS TIMES – When preparing your next meal, think of hungry people across Asia.

Asia today has the majority of the world’s undernourished people, with 418 million people accounting for more than half of the world’s hungry mouths.

The majority are in South Asia, which has 305.7 million people. Southeast Asia follows with 48.8 million people and West Asia with 42.3 million, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic broke, Asia had 361.3 million undernourished people.

“Being in a state of acute food insecurity means that families are faced with very difficult decisions – they may be forced to skip meals, eat less nutritious foods, prioritize children over adults at meals. , to go into debt to buy food, (or) to sell key assets to make ends meet, ”said UN World Food Program (WFP) spokesperson James Belgrave. Times of the Straits (ST).

“Their nutrition will likely suffer. Children can become emaciated – too thin, or stunted, too short – with impacts that will last a lifetime, ”he added.

Teachers and volunteers from the non-profit Unique Foundation distributing food to children in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Siliguri, India. PHOTOS: AFP & TIMES OF THE STRAITS
Housewife Lara Villalon said her family went through a food security crisis when her husband lost his job during the pandemic
China has ostensibly come a long way since the devastating 1959-1961 famine that starved tens of millions to death

Belgrave said most of the countries in Asia where WFP operates have experienced increased food insecurity due to the socio-economic fallout and economic impact of the pandemic, and extreme weather events such as droughts, floods. and storms.

“It may have affected particular segments of the population, especially urban centers, the slums of major cities in the region,” he said.

Professor of Applied Economics and Director of the Tata-Cornell Institute at Cornell University, Prabhu Pingali, noted that global food production has not been affected by the pandemic and therefore hunger is caused by the loss of income. “None of the major food-exporting countries have experienced a drop in production. India recorded record food grain harvests in 2020 and 2021. Food supplies have not been a problem in most Asian countries.

“The main problem has been access to food due to job loss, mainly among low-wage migrant workers who have been forced to return to their villages of origin,” he said. Professor Pingali also cautioned against over reliance on hunger estimates.

“Estimates of world hunger are great for looking at long-term trends, but not for gauging the number of people affected by an immediate shock.

“In addition, the hunger figures provided by United Nations agencies are based on caloric adequacy rather than a measure of a balanced diet that includes protein, minerals and vitamins. So it does not measure “hidden hunger” or micronutrient malnutrition, ”he said.

The situation in some countries seems increasingly desperate. More than 20 million Filipinos – or one in five people – said they were hungry in the first three months of the year, twice as many before the pandemic, according to a survey by Social Weather Stations (SWS).

They said there were days when they had nothing to eat, or they only had one meal a day.

“We cannot feed a whole family. Yet people are lining up to eat, even though they will have just enough for one serving. It means they are desperate, ”said Jomar Fleras, executive director of the nonprofit Rise Against Hunger (RAH). ST.

His organization has the largest network of soup kitchens and eating programs in the Philippines.

Housewife Lara Villalon, 33, said her family experienced a food security crisis when her husband lost his job during the pandemic.

“Fortunately, we had our savings and a back garden. I also started selling food online. These have helped us overcome, ”she said.

The poverty rate in Malaysia has also worsened considerably after repeated closings which have severely affected the income streams of many informal workers.

The government revealed last month that Malaysia’s absolute poverty rate rose to 8.4% last year, from 5.6% in 2019. This resulted in 580,000 households falling into the bracket. lower income.

Economist and managing director of DM Analytics research group Muhammed Abdul Khalid said Malaysia is already facing a national crisis in terms of food access and malnutrition among vulnerable households. “Twenty percent of Malaysian children suffer from malnutrition, this is the biggest problem that will affect us in the long run,” said Muhammed.

Hunger is particularly acute in India, which fell seven places to rank 101st out of 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2021 released this week.

It was categorized as “severe” hunger and ranked behind Nepal (76), Pakistan (92) and Bangladesh (76). The report states that 15.3 percent of India’s population is undernourished and 17.3 percent of children under five are wasted.

“People have been severely affected by Covid-19 and by the restrictions linked to the pandemic in India, the country with the highest rate of child wasting in the world,” the report said.

Millions of people remain excluded from the public ration distribution system because the government uses outdated demographic data to calculate beneficiaries. A recent analysis showed that more than 100 million people entitled to food rations do not receive them.

Another event that affected the food security of some in India was the locust swarms that swept through parts of the country and Iran, as well as neighboring Pakistan, last year. Scientists said the extreme temperatures in the region aided the breeding of insects, which also devoured large-scale crops in Africa.

For a number of low-income families in Thailand, food or basic necessities distributed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been a godsend.

“Without them we would have nothing to eat,” said widow Somporn Boonnoi, 46, who has two children aged 10 and 15.

Pointing to the bags of instant noodles and dry food in his home in the slums of Klong Toey, Somporn added, “This is the only way to survive.”

The pandemic pushed nearly 800,000 more Thais into poverty last year, according to a study by Thailand Science Research and Innovation.

And with the recently lifted COVID-19 restrictions that have locked cities, closed businesses, and restricted travel and travel, thousands of people have lost their jobs or have had their working hours and wages cut.

While the government has put in place measures to cushion the financial blow, many grassroots groups and NGOs have filled in the gaps by distributing food and basic necessities to the needy.

In Indonesia, undernourishment affects a large part of the population. “Indonesia has no famine. Our problem is undernourishment, which affects around eight percent of the population, ”said Agung Hendriadi, head of the Indonesian Food Security Agency.

“Our challenge is the distribution, not the availability, of the food. We are more than 17,000 islands and there are regions with surpluses of food and others with deficits. We are constantly monitoring to fill any gaps.

Nonetheless, observers noted that unreported food shortages in the world’s largest archipelagic nation could be possible from time to time.

Hunger is also a growing problem in Myanmar as it grapples with both the pandemic and the political and economic free fall triggered by the February 1 military coup. Financial institutions were weakened by the rush on banks and the junta attempted to remedy this by limiting cash withdrawals.

WFP Country Director Stephen Anderson warned last month that more people could face “extreme deprivation” in Myanmar.

In April, the United Nations agency predicted that the number of hungry people could double to 6.2 million in the next six months.

The most exposed are the villagers displaced by the armed conflict which breaks out between the military regime and the “people’s defense forces” which resist its authority. In areas where it faces the greatest resistance, the army inflicts collective punishment by destroying houses, food and livestock.

The global charity Save the Children warned on October 4 that many of the more than 76,000 children forced to flee their homes since the coup live in the jungle, with many families sharing only one. meals per day.

In urban areas and where armed conflict is not so intense, residents struggle with unemployment and inflation.

Lay Win, 43, was forced to stop driving his cab last month because he couldn’t find a client. He has withdrawn all his savings and is only spending on meals for his family of three.

“We can only spend a little each time because I am unemployed,” he said. ST. “We have seen and heard about many other families in difficulty, who have had to sell their belongings to buy food. “

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