As the global economy absorbs the most punishing reversal of fortunes since the Great Depression, hunger is on the rise.
Those confronting potentially life-threatening levels of so-called food insecurity in the developing world are expected to nearly double this year to 265 million, according to the United Nations World Food Program.
Worldwide, the number of children younger than 5 caught in a state of so-called wasting — their weight so far below normal that they face an elevated risk of death, along with long-term health and developmental problems — is likely to grow by nearly seven million this year, or 14 percent, according to a recent paper published in The Lancet, a medical journal.
The largest numbers of vulnerable communities are concentrated in South Asia and Africa, especially in countries that are already confronting trouble, from military conflict and extreme poverty to climate-related afflictions like drought, flooding and soil erosion.
The unfolding tragedy falls short of a famine, which is typically set off by a combination of war and environmental disaster. Food remains widely available in most of the world, though prices have climbed in many countries.
Rather, with the world economy expected to contract nearly 5 percent this year, households are cutting back sharply on spending. Among those who went into the pandemic in extreme poverty, hundreds of millions of people are suffering an intensifying crisis over how to secure their basic dietary needs.
The pandemic has reinforced basic economic inequalities, none more defining than access to food.
“I’m increasingly concerned about the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic on the nutrition situation of children,” said Victor Aguayo, chief of nutrition programs at UNICEF in New York. “It’s a perfect storm to see an increase in malnutrition rates if appropriate measures and programs are not put in place.”