Chapter 1 Sustainable Development Goal 2.1: Undernourishment and food insecurity

1.1 Prevalence of undernourishment

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s (FAO) 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.1 1 For more detail see FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO. 2019. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019. Rome, FAO.

Hunger has been on the rise in the Arab States since 2014, but years of progress have been erased since 2000. The PoU was 15.8 percent in 2020, close to the peak of 2011, which are the years when the region experienced two major shocks in a decade – the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and popular uprisings in 2011. PoU increases are observed across all income levels, in conflict-affected countries since 2010 and in non-conflict countries since 2015. As a result, the number of undernourished increased by close to 30 percent between 2014 and 2020, to 69 million. This is also 4.8 million more than in 2019. When the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020 it brought major disruptions to the region’s economy and people’s livelihoods.


Prevalence of undernourishment in the world and the Arab States, and the number of undernourished in the Arab States

Source: FAO.
Notes: Values for 2020 are projections. The bars indicate the range of the 2020 estimates.

The regional PoU is higher than the global average of 9.9 percent. Looking at income levels, the PoU in low-income economies was 33.2 percent, compared to 31.2 percent in upper-middle-income economies, 5.1 percent in high-income economies and 5.1 percent in lower-middle-income economies.2 Hunger in conflict-affected countries has always been much higher than in non-conflict countries, in the order of 17 to 30 percentage points. In 2020, the PoU in conflict-affected countries was 34.7 percent, more than six times as high as in non-conflict countries. Hunger has also been consistently high in the least developed countries (LDCs) of the region. 2 The PoU aggregates for Arab upper-middle-income countries need to be interpreted with caution. There are only four countries in this group and the aggregates are dominated by Iraq, the most populous country in this group.


Prevalence of undernourishment in the Arab States by subregion

Source: FAO.
Note: Values for 2020 are projections.

Prevalence of undernourishment (percent)

Arab States12.812.913.914.815.015.8
Low-income economies25.124.229.632.132.133.2
Lower-middle-income economies6.
Upper-middle-income economies18.924.427.429.829.531.2
High-income economies5.
Arab States LDCs29.027.627.129.329.831.0
Conflict countries24.125.831.434.133.734.7
Non-conflict countries6.
Source: FAO.
Note: Values for 2020 are projections.

Data for the individual country estimates is only available for 15 Arab countries out of a total of 22. Most countries (10 out of 15 listed) for which data is available show an increase in the PoU between 2013–2015 and 2018–2020. Undernourishment trended upwards across all country income groups. Somalia and Yemen, two conflict-affected, low-income countries displayed the highest levels of undernourishment in the region in both periods, with varying trends. The PoU has declined in Somalia to 59.5 percent, while in Yemen it has increased, reaching 45.4 percent. In 2018–2020, the lowest levels of PoU, below 4 percent, were recorded in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.


Prevalence of undernourishment in the Arab States by country

Source: FAO.
Note: Values for 2020 are projections.

The number of undernourished in the Arab region reached 69 million in 2020, up from 32.9 million, or 91.1 percent, compared with 2000. The region accounted for 9 percent of the global total of 768 million in 2020. Low-income economies had 35.6 million undernourished people, upper-middle-income economies had 20 million, lower-middle-income economies had 10.4 million and high-income economies had 3 million. There were 54.3 million undernourished people in conflict-affected countries, which is more than three times as high as the 15.5 million in non-conflict countries. The number of undernourished people increased by 4.8 million compared to 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The increases occurred across all income levels and in conflict-affected as well as non-conflict countries of the region.


Number of people undernourished in the Arab States by subregion

Source: FAO.
Note: Values for 2020 are projections.

Number of people undernourished (millions)

Arab States36.145.853.958.864.269.0
Low-income economies17.622.028.431.233.635.6
Lower-middle-income economies9.
Upper-middle-income economies7.211.815.317.218.620.0
High-income economies1.
Arab States LDCs16.720.722.424.927.929.7
Conflict countries23.832.842.947.550.853.4
Non-conflict countries12.313.011.011.413.415.5
Source: FAO.
Note: Values for 2020 are projections.

The worsening food security situation is reflected in the prevalence of undernourishment data as well as in the prevalence of moderate or severe food security in the population figures presented below.