Almost 690 million people around the world were undernourished last year, according to a new United Nations report, continuing what experts say is a worrying increase in global hunger.
The number of people who went hungry in 2019 was up 10 million from the previous year, and up 60 million from five years ago, said a report entitled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.
The report, released this month, was authored by international groups including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN’s International Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
It warned that nearly 9% of the world’s population was undernourished last year, marking an increase in hunger despite international efforts to fight it.
The majority of people who went hungry in 2019 live in Asia, followed by Africa, the report said. Undernourishment is worse among women than among men, and the gender gap is growing.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has worsened projections for nutrition and food security. Estimates suggest that the pandemic could add 100 million people to those who are undernourished this year.
In May, Catholic Relief Services launched a campaign to help address global hunger.
The agency warned that many countries were already experiencing a food crisis prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, unemployment, lockdowns, heightened food prices, and supply disruptions have made it even more difficult for impoverished families in many areas to get food.
CRS president and CEO Sean Callahan warned of a “shadow pandemic” of worsening hunger in vulnerable parts of the world.
“Now is the time for us to lead the way forward to ensure that these communities have the support they need to make it through this crisis and beyond,” he said.
“If we don’t provide adequate food to children now, it will impact them for the rest of their lives.”
The “Lead the Way on Hunger” campaign encourages Catholics to educate themselves and help fight global hunger through prayer, donations, efforts to raise awareness, and advocacy on behalf of foreign aid legislation.
Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a member of the CRS board, praised the campaign as an expression of solidarity, work for the common good, and promotion of human dignity.
“We believe that each life, no matter how vulnerable, is precious,” the archbishop said.
Catholic Relief Services is active in many countries to help alleviate food insecurity. In Guatemala, the agency is helping offer packages of rice, corn, beans and oil for children who are at risk of undernutrition and often receive their only meal of the day through distribution programs at their schools, which have closed due to the pandemic. In the Philippines, CRS aided a home for people with disabilities to acquire a one-month supply of food and hygiene items.
Catholic Relief Services is also helping with instructions and supplies for hand-washing and sanitization, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.