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COVID-19 and malnutrition: situation analysis and options in Africa

More than 820 million people in the world were hungry in 2018 (FAO, 2019). In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), there were 239 million undernourished people, with a prevalence of 22.8 percent as measured by the Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU), a Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) indicator. The target is to bring this prevalence to zero by 2030 (Ritchie et al., 2018). According to the latest Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), 9.2 percent of the world’s population (or more than 700 million people) were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2018, with Africa having the highest level of 27 percent. Africa remains a laggard in most nutrition indicators, including access to safe and clean drinking water, which directly relates to nutrition outcomes.

Malnutrition in SSA, especially undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, is driven by a combination of factors. These include conflicts faced by some of the countries in the region and extreme weather events as a result of climate change. Sporadic shocks in the food systems make the route to achieving Zero Hunger and eliminating all forms of malnutrition by 2030 even much more onerous. Since many parts of the continent had already been fighting desert locusts, one can say that COVID-19 outbreak has come at a worse time. Supporting efforts to build the resilience of farmers to face such shocks remains one of the key priorities for intervention.

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