WORLD hunger and malnutrition levels skyrocketed last year with unprivileged nations sinking further into poverty due to the impact of COVID-19, according to a United Nations report published on Monday.

The number of undernourished people rose to about 768 million – after remaining virtually unchanged for five years previously. 

That’s the equivalent to an increase of about 118 million from 2019, a jump of around 10% of the world’s population, said the report published by UN agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

That number is 30 million higher than in a scenario where the pandemic had not occurred.

The report, which is the first comprehensive assessment of food insecurity and nutrition since the COVID crisis began, read: “Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to expose weaknesses in our food systems, which threaten lives and livelihoods. No region of the world has been spared.” 

Researchers also estimated that, based on their findings, the U.N. sustainable development goal of zero hunger by 2030 will be missed by a margin of nearly 660 million people.

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That number is 30 million higher than in a scenario where the pandemic had not occurred.

The number of people unable to access adequate food year-round rose by 320 million to 2.37 billion last year – a rise in one year equal to the preceding five years combined.

Of the 768 million undernourished people, 418 million were in Asia, 282 million in Africa and 60 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Africa, 21% of people are undernourished, more than double that of any other region and children were the worst affected age group. 

The report recommended policymakers undertake a number of actions to prevent undernourishment, such as incorporating humanitarian, development and peace-building policies in conflict areas; strengthening the resilience of the most vulnerable to economic adversity; and tackling poverty and structural inequalities.

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