Is world hunger rising again?

In a report released a few days ago by multiple UN agencies, the reader is confronted with a distressing piece of evidence: world hunger, after decreasing steadily over the 2000s, might be rising again. Using statistics on ‘prevalence of undernourishment (PoU)’, the report shows that

‘…the share of undernourished people in the world decreased from 14.7 per cent in 2000 to 10.8 per cent in 2013. However…FAO estimates for 2016 indicate that the global prevalence of undernourishment in 2016 may have actually risen to 11 per cent, implying a return to the level reached in 2012 and suggesting a possible reversal of the downward sustained over recent decades’.

The report attributes the likely rise in global hunger attributes to various types of conflicts in different parts of the world that attenuates food security, to climate change and to economic downturns that sap the capacity of governments in developing countries to look after the poor and the needy. The report suggests that the evidence on the latest trends in PoU pose a challenge to the Sustainable Development Goals which is committed to end hunger and prevent all forms malnutrition by 2030. The case, it contends, for collective and corrective action is strong.

The more cynical observer might conclude that, given typical margins of error that accompany global estimates of material deprivation, the suggestion of a rise in global hunger is premature and that trends in income poverty as compiled by the World Bank are a lot more positive. The response to this cynicism is that world hunger might not have increased, but there are multiple observations (2013 to 2016) to suggest that at least that progress in reducing global hunger has stalled. Furthermore, positive trends on income poverty between 2012 and 2015 are based on forecasts rather than actual estimates.

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