New Delhi: Achieving Zero Hunger by 2030 seems to be a far cry as the latest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World has come up with a startling report which estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic could tip over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020 across the planet.

This joint report is issued annually by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It presents the latest estimates on food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition at the global and regional levels.

Writing in the foreword of the report, the heads of the five agencies have warned that “five years after the world committed to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition, we are still off track to achieve this objective by 2030’’.

However, the latest report says that almost 690 million people went hungry in 2019 - up by 10 million from 2018, and by nearly 60 million in five years. High costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthily or nutritiously. As progress in fighting hunger stalls, the COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems. While it is too early to assess the full impact of the lockdowns and other containment measures, the report says that 130 million more people may go hungry in 2020. The setback throws into further doubt the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for zero hunger.

The hungry are most numerous in Asia but expanding fastest in Africa. Hunger is on the rise in almost all African sub-regions, making Africa the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment. Hunger is also slowly rising in Latin America and the Caribbean, while Western Asia shows a continuous increase since 2010, with more than 12% of its population undernourished today.

This year, the report presents evidence that a healthy diet costs far more than US$ 1.90/day, the international poverty threshold. A staggering 3 billion people or more cannot afford a healthy diet. In sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, this is the case for 57% of the population – though no region, including North America and Europe, is spared. Partly as a result, the race to end malnutrition appears compromised.

The report indicates that the burden of malnutrition in all its forms remains a challenge and that while the world has been making some progress against some of the 2030 SDG nutrition targets—it has been uneven and insufficient to meet the goals.

As of the end of 2019, exclusive breastfeeding only was on track for the 2025 target, stunting and low birth weight showed some progress although insufficient to achieve either the 2025 or 2030 targets, the prevalence of wasting was notably higher than the targets and achievement of the 2030 child overweight target would require a reversal of the current trajectory.