The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says more than 350 million people in the Asia-Pacific are starving as the coronavirus pandemic is destroying jobs and pushing food prices higher.
Recent estimates suggest that nearly 688 million people worldwide are malnourished, more than half in Asia. The largest share is in South Asian countries such as Afghanistan, where four in 10 people are malnourished.
A key factor is food affordability, a problem in rich countries like Japan as well as poor places like Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea, said the report issued by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization. .
The disruption and loss of jobs due to the pandemic mean that families cannot find enough food in many places. That is evident in the long lines seen at food banks even in the United States.
In India, broken supply chains and transportation problems, especially during the lockdown pandemic, have prevented excess grain stocks from reaching all that is needed. Daily workers and migrants are the most vulnerable, despite the massive public distribution system that entitles 75% of the rural population and half of those living in cities to subsidized food grain.
Since eligibility for such a program is based on a nearly decade-old census, many urban poor and migrants are unable to make use of these resources.
Across Asia, high prices for fruit, vegetables and dairy products make it “almost impossible” for low-income families to have a healthy diet, the report said. FAO data shows food prices rose to their highest level in nearly six years in November.
Many people in this region end up consuming cheap, high-calorie processed foods that contribute to obesity and diabetes, but are deficient in vitamins and minerals.
The data in the report shows that it is more expensive to eat a healthy diet in Thailand, Laos, Bhutan and Indonesia, around $ 5 per day, compared to New Zealand and Australia, less than $ 3 per day.
A moderately nutritious diet tends to cost $ 2 to $ 3 per day in most countries, rich or poor, but is more expensive in Japan and South Korea. In most countries, a nutritious diet costs two to three times the cost of providing sufficient energy.
The long-term costs of deprivation are seen in higher rates of death and disease. Tens of millions of children suffer from wasting or stunting, fail to thrive and are unable to reach their full potential.
The report states that five of the 45 countries requiring food assistance are in South, Southeast or East Asia. They include Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea and Myanmar.
In the long term, food insecurity was improving before the pandemic hit. The report urges the government to change the food system to ensure all can have nutritious food. It calls for a multidimensional approach to ensure better health care, water and sanitation, education and social protection.
Associated Press reporter Vineeta Deepak contributed.