The 2021 Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition provides an update on the progress made in the Arab States towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 targets related to hunger, food security and nutrition, as well as the 2025 global nutrition targets set by the World Health Assembly (WHA). This short 2021 report is different from previous reports and focuses exclusively on recent trends in the above indicators.

Data presented in this report show that the Arab States face significant challenges in achieving both SDG target 2.1, ensuring regular access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for all people, and SDG target 2.2, ending all forms of malnutrition. Previous editions highlighted the fact that the region had been off track to achieve hunger and nutrition-related SDG targets even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Hunger has been rising since 2015–17, mostly due to the conflicts experienced in several countries of the region.

The report estimates that 69 million people in the region were undernourished in 2020, which is 4.8 million more than in 2019. The increase in the levels of undernourishment has occurred across all income levels, in conflict-affected as well as non-conflict countries. In addition, nearly 141 million people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of more than 10 million people since 2019.

While it is still too early to assess precisely the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nutrition, the deteriorating food security situation suggests that a greater number of people face difficulties in accessing a healthy diet, which will have negative implications for their nutritional status. Many Arab countries still show high levels of stunting and overweight in children under five years of age. The prevalence of anaemia in women of reproductive age remains a severe public health problem in low-income economies of the region. The prevalence of adult obesity is more than double the global average, with high-income countries of the region displaying particularly high rates.

The worsening trends here show that the efforts made to achieve food security and nutrition targets in the region have stalled and are not likely to improve in the context of the overwhelming economic disruptions caused by COVID-19. The region must take action and apply greater efforts to overcome the enormous challenges it faces to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and eradicate hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition.

Abdul Hakim El Waer
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations