The Hunger Crisis in Asia
Asia is home to more than 4.7 billion people, about 60% of the world's population.1 So, it's not surprising that the greatest number of the world’s people facing hunger* also live in Asia.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2021 ...
Asia was home to more than 425 million undernourished people. That’s about 9% of the region’s total population and more than half of the 768 million people globally who were undernourished in 2021.
Also in Asia, 58 million more people were forced into hunger in 2020 after the onset of the pandemic.
Another 26 million were added to the ranks of hungry people in 2021. And the numbers continue to rise.2
*Hunger is the physical sensation experienced by the body. It signals a lack of nutrients and a need for nourishment. When food security (i.e., dependable and consistent access to healthy food) is disrupted, hunger becomes chronic.
How Many Asians Are Facing a Food Crisis?
More facts about the food crisis in Asia reported by the FAO include the following:
Almost 25% of people in the Asia-Pacific region are currently experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity,* with more than 10% of people in the severe food insecurity category.
Of Asia’s food insecure people, most are in the South Asia countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, where almost 41% of the population was food insecure in 2021, with 21% facing severe insecurity.
In 2020, almost 1.9 billion Asians (about 44% of the population) were unable to afford a healthy diet — an increase of 78 million over 2019. That’s because Asia saw the highest surge in the world in the cost of a healthy diet, a result of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken by national governments to curb it.3
*Food insecurity is defined as not having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious food that allows a person to remain healthy and lead an active life.
In 2021, South Asia was the sub-region with the highest number of undernourished people in the world — 330 million.
— FAO, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022.
What Are the Causes of the Food Crisis in Asia?
Poverty and inequality are the main causes of hunger and all the forms of malnutrition across the world, including Asia. But several events since 2020 have come together to create a food crisis unlike any seen since World War. These events include:
COVID-19 Pandemic: For Asians in poverty already struggling to survive, the pandemic and enforced lockdowns to control its spread shut down their ability to work. They were unable to leave home to work even for a meager income. Without savings and other back-ups resources, families were forced to sacrifice life’s most basic necessities, including food.
Soaring Inflation: While affecting everyone in the world, inflation has hit the poorest families the most, making it impossible for them to afford a sufficient amount of nutritious food. Of all the world’s regions, the food prices have been highest in Asia.4
Conflict/Insecurity: The number of people facing severe food insecurity in countries experiencing conflict/insecurity increased by 88% between 2019 and 2021.5
Asian countries experiencing conflict/insecurity include Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, four countries in which Compassion partners with local churches to assist children and families in extreme need.
Such conflict leads to loss of local food resources, as crops and livestock are plundered or destroyed. It also uproots families and causes disruption in their livelihoods.
Weather Extremes: Increasing weather-related natural disasters are destroying lives and livelihoods at an alarming rate. In Southeast Asia, such island countries as the Philippines and Indonesia are highly vulnerable to the destruction of typhoons and earthquakes.
War in Ukraine: The war in Ukraine has caused serious shortages in wheat, fuel and fertilizers that many low-income countries depend on.
The intensification of the major drivers behind recent food insecurity and malnutrition trends (i.e. conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks) combined with the high cost of nutritious foods and growing inequalities will continue to challenge food security and nutrition. — FAO, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022.
Hunger and Child Development
Poverty and hunger affect a child’s physical and cognitive development, and the effect starts even before the child is born.
Undernourishment in an expectant mother can cause developmental challenges in the unborn child. Anemia and iron deficiency in pregnant women are so prominent in Asia because of the widespread hunger it has been identified as a public health concern. This iron deficiency in the pregnant mother can cause the child to be born prematurely, have a low birth weight, and/or cause problems during early childhood development.
After birth, chronic hunger and malnutrition can result in stunting, wasting (low weight for height), higher susceptibility to disease and illness, a difficulty in developing social skills, slow cognitive development, and more.
The effects of poverty on children are substantial and affect their physical and mental health throughout life, along with their behavior and their ability to learn and achieve.