UN hunger report shows changing face of food insecurity in Europe, Central Asia

1A front-runner in the race to end hunger, the region still struggles with malnutrition

Multiple trends are shaping the nutrition map for Europe and Central Asia, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s first-ever report on food insecurity and malnutrition in Europe and Central Asia, released on 16 June. The problems of food insecurity have changed away from that of caloric sufficiency toward the quality of peoples’ diets – a trend that will likely continue in this way.

This report is a companion to FAO’s recently published global report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015.

Prevalence of hunger reduced by half

With undernourishment at less than 5 percent, the lowest of all five FAO world regions, Eurasia has reached the internationally accepted Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing by half the incidence of hunger by 2015. Translating this into numbers: fewer than 6 million people in the region today are affected by hunger, compared to 9.9 million in 1990/92. This puts Europe and Central Asia at the forefront in terms of progress toward achieving the even more stringent World Food Summit goal of halving the absolute number of hungry in the same time period.

Steadily declining hunger rates are seen from Lisbon to Vladivostok since 2000, as post-Soviet countries have emerged from the so-called “transition recession” and incomes in the entire region have risen robustly. According to FAO’s estimates, almost all countries have an adequate average level of calories available to their population. The prevalence of hunger remains high in only one country of the region – Tajikistan. However, that country has also made great strides since 2005/07.

Despite the good news on under-nutrition, both rich and poor countries in the region are afflicted by malnutrition – in the form of micronutrient deficiencies and overweight. Both phenomena are frequent among children under 5, with micronutrient deficiencies causing stunting and anaemia. The rising prevalence of overweight in children could become a serious financial burden on national healthcare systems in post-Soviet and Balkan countries.

Better access to food through poverty reduction

 

In the last 15 years, access to food has become less of a challenge as a result of poverty reduction. In Europe and Central Asia this was a result of an accumulation of institutional reforms and higher growth rates. However, as the report notes, there is not a one-to-one mapping of countries with lower poverty rates to those with no significant hunger problems. All countries in the region (with two exceptions) have reduced their prevalence of undernourishment to less than 10 percent, while not all have reduced poverty rates to that level.

Improved food security through targeted actions

Food security and poverty alleviation have been high priorities for a number of years, and almost every country has a national program on food security, a program for poverty alleviation, or both. Reductions in food insecurity may highlight the success of those policies, but according to FAO, there is not enough focus on better nutrition.

“Countries in the region are pursuing different strategies to ensure food security,” said David Sedik, senior policy officer at FAO’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia. “Some emphasize food self-sufficiency, while others pursue a more liberal trade regime and export promotion.”

However, with the changing face of food insecurity in the region – from caloric insufficiency to malnutrition – countries need to develop new policies to combat the growing problems of unhealthy diet, overweight and obesity, and non-contagious, diet-related diseases. FAO’s Regional Overview of Food Insecurity:  Europe and Central Asia suggests that countries promote more diverse food production and diets – encouraged through nutrition education targeting school children and mothers of young children, in particular.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015

The number of hungry people in the world has dropped to 795 million – 216 million fewer than in 1990/92 – or around one person out of every nine, according to the latest edition of FAO’s global hunger report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015, published on 27 May.

In developing regions, the prevalence of undernourishment – which measures the proportion of people who are unable to consume enough food for an active and healthy life – has declined to 12.9 percent of the population, down from 23.3 percent a quarter century ago.

“The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime,” said FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva when the report was released. “We must be the Zero Hunger generation. That goal should be mainstreamed into all policy interventions and at the heart of the new sustainable development agenda to be established this year.”

Progress towards fully achieving the 2015 food security targets globally was hampered in recent years by challenging global economic conditions, extreme weather events and, in some countries, by political instability.

Yet, alongside these challenges, world population has grown by 1.9 billion since 1990, making reductions in the number of hungry people all the more striking, the report says.

LINKS:

Regional report – State of Food Insecurity: Europe and Central Asia

http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4649e.pdf

Global report – State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015

http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4646e.pdf

FAO’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

http://www.fao.org/europe/