UN: Much more needs to be done to combat hunger

We recently reported on a collaboration between the city of Baltimore and Council Advisor the National Resources Defense Council to reduce food waste, provide high-quality food for the hungry and other benefits (including for local economies) food rescue and recovery programs can provide.

Now, a series of reports from the UN, the World Health Organization and others highlight a dire scenario of increasingly ineffective efforts to combat malnutrition and hunger in the Asia-Pacific region and the impact inequality is having on hunger and obesity in Latin America. Another stresses the importance of minimizing food waste and the need for clear policies to steer implementation of those programs. In addition to providing an eye-opening view of malnutrition and hunger in different parts of the world, the reports are also a cue for us to review whether our local smart city initiatives include policies that adequately address those issues. — Doug Peeples


One of the UN's regional reports reveals that the effort to reduce malnutrition and hunger "has come to a virtual standstill in many parts of Asia and the Pacific."

The two regions are home to more than half of the world's malnourished people, 486 million, according to the report compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, UNICEF, The World Food Programme and the World Health Organization. It's worth noting that this is the first time the four UN organizations have published such a report.

As the organizations wrote in their foreword, "Progress in reducing undernourishment has slowed tremendously. The report's estimates show that the number of hungry people has barely changed during the past two years, making it increasingly difficult to achieve the Zero Hunger target of SDG2." The reference is to the Sustainable Development Goal to end malnutrition by 2030. The report explains that inaction would lead to "a colossal human loss to Asia and Pacific and its economies if countries in the region do not recommit themselves to ending all forms of malnutrition and achieving zero hunger by 2030."

Causes and solutions
Natural disasters have cut down food production with the result a domino effect that is felt throughout the food value chain, hampering the ability for people to make a living and causing economic and agricultural losses.

One solution is for those regions to focus on more resilient agriculture that can withstand severe weather and reduce economic losses. The report also lists inadequate access to safe food and water, sanitation and hygiene as contributors to malnutrition in children. Resolving those issues also is essential for reducing malnutrition.

In Asia and Pacific regions, as well as Latin America, childhood obesity is rising at a faster rate than elsewhere in the world. It may seem contradictory, but the rise in obesity is attributed to "cheap, unhealthy processed foods high in salt, sugar and fat but poor in essential nutrients." And as the report on Latin America said, hunger, malnutrition and obesity typically affect lower income and rural families, women, indigenous communities and — increasingly — children.

As much as food and water quality and access to health care, inequality contributes to malnutrition because lower income families don't have equal access to healthy diet choices.

Wasted food also is a very much related issue, according to a separate FAO report. It explains that more than half of the fruits and vegetables produced globally are wasted or lost, and about 25% of all meat.

In a statement, FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva said "To tackle all forms of malnutrition and promote healthy diets, we need to put in place food systems that increase the availability, affordability and consumption of fresh, nutrient-rich food for everyone."

To accomplish that goal the report recommends policies across the entire food system, including education programs, a stronger focus on preserving and transporting perishable foods, better public and private infrastructure and improved monitoring of food waste and losses.

With the value of lost and wasted food valued at about $1 trillion globally, policies and programs that minimize waste would greatly benefit economies — and making use of food already produced also would reduce the amount of energy, land and water that is otherwise lost in its production.