The Problem of Hunger in Asia
Asia is home to more than 4.6 billion people, about 60% of the world's population. So, it's not surprising that more than half of the world’s hungry people also live in Asia.1 In fact, Asia and the Pacific is home to nearly half a billion (479 million) undernourished people.2
Undernutrition is defined as a diet that is insufficient in terms of energy (caloric) requirements and inadequate in meeting a body's nutrient requirements for good health.
It's also estimated that 959 million people in the Asia-Pacific region are experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity, with nearly one-third of them (327 million) in the severe food insecurity category; 80% of the severely food insecure are in South Asia.2
The spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 is expected to increase rates of world hunger even more.
Prioritizing Nutrition Is an Important Element in Fighting Poverty
It’s universally acknowledged that providing food assistance as part of hurricane relief efforts, or in response to earthquake disasters and other emergencies, saves lives, but it's the emphasis on proper nutrition throughout life that changes lives and will break the cycle of poverty.
The conditions of stunting, wasting and underweight that result from acute, recurrent and chronic undernutrition and the "hidden hunger" associated with vitamin and mineral deficiencies may seem unrelated to the rising incidence of overweight and obesity in low- and middle-income countries,* but they stem from the same root causes: poverty, inequality and poor diets.
Nearly 80 million children in Asia under the age of 5 have faced hunger for so long that they are now stunted (low ratio of height to age)3, but at the same time, Asia is experiencing growing rates of obesity. Millions of children in Asia – especially those in large cities where economic growth is not distributed equally – are becoming overweight and obese because the food their families can afford lacks nutritional value. As a result, they eat a lot of processed foods full of fat, salt and sugar.
Despite the obesity crisis occurring in cities, extreme poverty in Asia is most prevalent in rural areas. In South Asia, more than four out of every five people who suffer from hunger live in rural communities, and the situation isn’t much better in East Asia or the Pacific; 75% of the people in rural East Asia and the Pacific are poor and struggling to afford food.3
Regardless of the setting, poverty and inequality are the main causes of hunger and all the forms of malnutrition across the Asia-Pacific region.3
Inadequate sanitation infrastructure and poor hygiene practices, common elements of extreme poverty, are also prevalent across Asia, making existing hunger-related problems worse.