Chapter 1 Sustainable Development Goal 2.1: undernourishment and food insecurity
1.1 Prevalence of undernourishment
FAO’s prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) indicator is derived from official country data on food supply, food consumption and energy needs, while taking into consideration demographic characteristics such as age, sex and levels of physical activity. Designed to capture a state of energy deprivation lasting over a year, it does not reflect the short-lived effects of temporary crises or a temporarily inadequate intake of essential nutrients.
FAO strives always to improve the accuracy of the PoU estimates by taking into account new information; the entire historical series is updated for each report. For this reason, only the current series of estimates should be used, including for values in past years.11 For more detail see FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO. 2019. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019. Rome, FAO.
Despite a history of rapid economic growth, nearly all countries in the region suffered an economic contraction in 2020 (China and Viet Nam, along with a few others, suffered a slowdown but still maintained positive growth). The spread of COVID-19 led governments around the region to implement a range of containment measures in 2020. These measures, along with a change in consumer behaviour intended to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19, were major factors behind the economic downturn.
Many Small Island Developing States (SIDS) were hit especially hard due to their reliance on tourism. For example, Fiji, Maldives, Palau and Vanuatu all experienced contractions in their gross domestic product (GDP) of 10 percent or more. But the economic downturn was not confined to SIDS, as many large economies were severely affected, with India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand all suffering contractions in GDP of more than 5 percent. Overall, GDP in East Asia excluding China declined by 3.8 percent in 2020, and it declined by 5.4 percent in South Asia.22 All GDP estimates are from World Bank. 2021. Global Economic Prospects June 2021. Washington, D.C., World Bank.
While there were substantial disruptions in food supply chains around the globe, overall changes in domestic food prices in the region were typically muted. In real terms, food prices across 40 countries in the region experienced a median increase of just 2.1 percent from December 2019 to December 2020, as measured by the food category that forms part of the consumer price index (CPI).3 Even the largest real food price increases during this time were still in the range of 6 to 12 percent (Australia, Bhutan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mongolia, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka). Thus, the economic downturn was more responsible for making food less affordable than were increased food prices. 3 The figures in the text are updates of the numbers provided in FAO. 2020. Impacts of coronavirus on food security and nutrition in Asia and the Pacific: building more resilient food systems. http://www.fao.org/policy-support/tools-and-publications/resources-details/en/c/1287454/
FAO has previously shown that economic downturns contribute to a worsening food security situation.4 The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic repercussions contributed to a large increase in the prevalence and number of undernourished in Asia and the Pacific in 2020. The number of undernourished increased from 322 million to 376 million, an increase of 17 percent (similar to the global increase of 18 percent). This substantial increase reversed a broadly declining trend over the past 20 years, although progress had stopped in recent years. The prevalence of undernourishment increased to 8.7 percent in 2020, slightly below the world average of 9.9 percent. 4 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO. 2021. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Transforming food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all. Rome, FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb4474en
Prevalence of undernourishment in the world and in Asia and the Pacific, and the number of undernourished in Asia and the Pacific
The prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) in Asia and the Pacific was 8.7 percent in 2020, down from 14.3 percent in 2000, reflecting decades of economic development. Notably, progress had slowed in recent years, even before COVID-19. In 2020, the prevalence was highest in Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand, followed by Southern Asia (15.8 percent), South-eastern Asia (7.3 percent) and Eastern Asia (less than 2.5 percent). The prevalence of undernourishment exceeds 20 percent in several countries: Afghanistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste. The largest increase in the prevalence of undernourishment in 2020 was in Southern Asia, where the prevalence increased by 2.5 percentage points, from 13.3 percent in 2019 to 15.8 percent in 2020.
Prevalence of undernourishment in Asia and the Pacific by subregion
The number of undernourished in Asia and the Pacific reached 375.8 million in 2020, down 127.9 million, or 25.4 percent, compared with 2000. The region accounted for 48.9 percent of the global total of 768 million in 2020. Southern Asia had 305.7 million undernourished people, followed by South-eastern Asia (48.8 million) and Oceania (2.7 million). The largest increase in undernourishment in 2020 in the wake of COVID-19 was in Southern Asia, which accounted for an additional 50.5 million undernourished out of an increase of 53.9 million at the regional level.
Number of people undernourished in Asia and the Pacific by subregion
Source: FAO. Note: The estimated PoU for Eastern Asia from 2010 onwards is below 2.5 percent of the population, which is the lowest value that can be reliably reported using the PoU methodology to calculate the number of undernourished people. Values for 2020 are projections. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb7494en-fig04
Number of people undernourished (millions)
Asia and the Pacific
East Asia excluding China
South Asia excluding India
Source: FAO. Note: The estimated PoU for Eastern Asia from 2010 onwards is below 2.5 percent of the population, which is the lowest value that can be reliably reported using the PoU methodology to calculate the number of undernourished people. Values for 2020 are projections.