Amid COVID, 21 Percent of African Citizens Believed to be Undernourished, U.N. Says

The United Nations said that Africa experienced the most severe rise in hunger in the last year, with 21 percent of people estimated to be undernourished, the Associated Press reported. The U.N. believes the uptick is related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A report released by five U.N. agencies found that about 10 percent of people globally are likely undernourished and hunger eclipsed population growth in 2020. The recessions and decreased food access caused by the pandemic seem to have exacerbated the issue, the report said.

"Yet even before the pandemic, hunger was spreading; progress on malnutrition lagged," the U.N. wrote in the report.

Children especially suffered, with 149 million under five years old estimated to have experienced stunted growth and 45 million approximated to be too thin for their height.

"A full 3 billion adults and children remain locked out of healthy diets, largely due to excessive costs,'' the report said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Hunger in Sudan
A villager who had volunteered to fetch gunny bags containing food rations from the site of an air drop takes a break at a village in Ayod county, South Sudan, where World Food Programme (WFP) carried out a food drop of grain and supplementary aid on February 6, 2020. Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images

"Disturbingly, in 2020 hunger shot up in both absolute and proportional terms, outpacing population growth," the report's authors concluded. The report found that some 9.9 percent of the world's population was estimated to have been undernourished last year, compared to 8.4 percent in 2019.

The report also noted the paradoxical problem of nearly 39 million children being overweight.

The United Nations said that the pandemic further undercut a U.N. goal of zero hunger by 2030. Based on current trends, it estimates that the goal will be "missed by a margin of nearly 660 million people," and that some 30 million of that figure "may be linked to the pandemic's lasting effects."

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report was prepared by U.N. agencies including the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The other two agencies were the United Nations Children's Fund, commonly known as UNICEF, which is based in New York, and the World Health Organization, or WHO, headquartered in Geneva.

The report was described by the agencies as the "first global assessment of its kind in the pandemic era."

Among the U.N.'s recommendations was one calling for strengthening "the resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity," such as through programs to lessen the impact of "pandemic-style shocks" or steep food price increases.

Ethiopia Famine
Ethiopian voters look at polling station tallies posted outside a polling station in Addis Ababa, on June 22, 2021. - Ethiopia voted on June 21, 2021 in an election billed as the most democratic yet in Africa's second-most populous country, but taking place as famine blights its war-torn Tigray region. Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images