World hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row A food pantry in Baltimore, Maryland. (Baltimore Heritage/USDA/Flickr)
World hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row
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Improvements in agricultural practices and food distribution have steadily decreased hunger rates. This has been true in nations across the globe for decades. But progress has been bumped off the tracks. That's according to Jason Beaubien reporting for NPR. 

New data has been put together by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (F.A.O.). Other agencies helped with the report. It found that hunger has increased across the world. It has gone up for the third year in a row.

The recent report is somewhat surprising. As of 2015, the rate of undernourishment in the developing world had fallen from 23.3 percent of people between the years 1990 to 1992 to 12.9 percent. 

But just as that percentage dropped by almost half, the numbers began to reflect global hunger on the rise. There were 783.7 million people affected by hunger in 2014. That that number increased to 784.4 in 2015. And it increased to 804.2 in 2016. The latest report bumps the number of those affected to 820.8 million.

So what’s causing the increase in hunger? The report points to two main culprits. The first culprit is conflicts around the globe. The second culprit is extreme weather events likely powered by climate change. The endless conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia have led to food issues. These impact millions of people. The drop in crude oil prices has led to economic problems in South America. This is particularly true in Venezuela. More than 2.3 million people have fled the country mainly due to food issues.

In Africa, some of the worst droughts ever seen have occurred in the last decade. The droughts are affecting nations all over the continent. This includes parts of West Africa and the Horn of Africa. It also includes Southern Africa. They have decimated agriculture and impacted food availability in the region.

“[T]he underlying problem with hunger and why we see so much hunger is also poverty, income inequalities and the marginalization of populations,” editor Cindy Holleman told Zipporah Nyambura at Deutsche Welle. Holleman is senior economist for food security and nutrition at the F.A.O. 

“But what's new is we’re seeing increasing climate variability. Africa has been hard hit. In the last 10 years, Africa has been especially hit with climate variability and extremes.”

The impacts of hunger can be severe. For instance, 151 million children under the age of 5 experience stunted growth due to malnourishment. This is according to the report. 

And 50.5 million experience wasting, or being severely underweight. It may seem odd but, hunger also leads to increased rates of obesity. This leads to other health problems like diabetes. 

The global percentage of obese people had reached 13.2 percent in 2016. That's according to an F.A.O. press release. This was true even in nations where hunger was on the rise. The reasons for this are complex. Fresh food is often expensive, so people are drawn toward fat and sugar-filled processed foods. This creates as “feast-or-famine” style of eating. In this scenario, people gorge when food is available. Then people go hungry when it is not. This is also believed to lead to metabolic changes. These could cause unwanted weight gain.

The reversal in hunger rates isn’t just a temporary blip and experts don’t see the trend reversing on its own. In fact, they fear that it will get worse without intervention. The report suggests that efforts must be made to end global conflicts and stop climate change. Nations need to be more resilient against natural disasters like flood and drought. Changes are needed to get things back on track.

If the trend continues, the UN will fail to achieve one of its most important sustainable development goals. The UN's agenda of projects included ending poverty and improving health and education by 2030. This agenda was ratified in 2015. 

“The alarming signs of increasing food insecurity and high levels of different forms of malnutrition are a clear warning that there is considerable work to be done to make sure we 'leave no one behind' on the road towards achieving the SDG goals on food security and improved nutrition,” the study’s authors write.

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