YB WEB DESK. Dated: 5/14/2022 1:51:26 PM

VIJAY GARG The ways the coronavirus pandemic has affected us is something we are yet to comprehend in its totality. Each day, newer revelations and understandings come forth. Now it is clear that inflation, conflict and pandemic have a close link and these factors have driven up the cost of food in recent years. But there are some achievements that has brought in some cheer in these gloomy times. According to latest estimates, the specter of hunger that has haunted humanity for millennia is moving closer to being vanquished. In middle-income countries, the number of people undernourished fell by roughly a quarter, or 162 million, between 2006 and 2020. That’s more than enough to offset the 43 million increase in lowincome nations, which are mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. In China, home to most of history’s biggest famines, the prevalence of childhood stunting — a typical indicator of malnutrition — is now at levels comparable to the U.S. The shift in India has been just dramatic. In 2006, more than a third of women were underweight. By 2019, that figure had been cut almost in half. There’s a worrying trend happening in the background of those figures, however. The share of Indian women who were overweight also nearly doubled, to the extent that it now affects more people than undernourishment. The picture is the same among men. In the middle-income countries where three-quarters of humanity live, the scourge of undernourishment is being replaced by a fast-rising epidemic of obesity, along with all the attendant problems of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The world has yet to reckon with this emerging problem. In tackling hunger, there’s a global infrastructure that’s been in place in one form or another since World War I, when Herbert Hoover set up a mass food drive for occupied Belgium. The main successor to that relief effort, the World Food Programme, delivered 4.2 million metric tons of food in 2020. We have nothing comparable in place to deal with the coming epidemic. Alleviating hunger in poor countries is paid for in part via rural subsidies in rich nations. The U.S. Farm Bills and European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy deliver income to farmers and generate food surpluses that are exported to the most needy places. Tackling the effects of a rising overweight and obese population in the developing world, however, will fall squarely on the shoulders of the countries where it occurs. The success of the world in preventing hunger is often seen as a repudiation of the 19th century economist Thomas Malthus, who argued that mass starvation would inevitably result from populations growing faster than agricultural output. In fact, the rising tide of obesity is evidence that the hard limits to food production Malthus envisaged are more binding than many of us suspect. Still, obesity isn’t so much the enemy of hunger as its sibling — another symptom of a world unable to provide its people with the nutrition they need to lead a healthy life. In the years ahead, that threat will only grow.


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