Attacks on agriculture have doubled, while malnutrition remains a problem in most countries, with just 52% of children getting the recommended amount of iron and a quarter not getting enough to meet the vitamin A requirement
Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean is at its highest point in two decades, the UN warned on Friday, adding that attacks on agriculture and the resulting decline in supply have led to “tens of thousands” of people dying from starvation in the past three years alone.
In 2017, the region was also experiencing the worst drought for 30 years.
The fight against hunger in the region has also been affected by conflict and the marked decline in international aid.
“We are seeing truly dramatic levels of hunger and malnutrition, in particular affecting children,” said Mamy Brandao, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s head of representative office in Brazil.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network warned in February that the number of people who were severely food insecure increased dramatically in 18 countries during the previous two years.
Countries such as Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Philippines, Senegal, Togo and Venezuela, where food insecurity has significantly increased, the FEWS NET said.
“The conditions that are allowing acute hunger to increase in this region must not be repeated elsewhere,” said Flavia Bustreo, the first director of mission at the UN’s World Food Programme in Brazil.
Heavy-handed economic policies, deforestation and land grabbing, water pollution and an increasing number of natural disasters were among the problems that caused severe food insecurity, officials said.
We are seeing truly dramatic levels of hunger and malnutrition Professor Nele Tempo, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation
But the brunt of the population’s suffering was due to widespread violence and conflicts in the past three years, said Tempo.
“Take El Salvador, a country where there is an active civil war going on. The population is victim of kidnappings and attacks on agriculture, there are so many uncertainties in their lives and the poverty level is very high,” she said.
In El Salvador, 52% of children were not getting enough to meet the vitamin A requirement, according to the FEWS NET.
Elsewhere, Honduras reported the highest rate of acute malnutrition in the region. In Haiti there were three times as many undernourished children compared with more than five years ago, due to a combination of hurricanes and economic strife.
Prof Nele Tempo of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation spoke to Reuters.
On food security in the south of the country, Tempo said that although rates of hunger had fallen in the past years, due to a social-driven economic recovery process, violence and insecurity had raised the spectre of a possible return to hunger and malnutrition.
The situation was exacerbated by climate change, which has worsened drought conditions in the region.
Amid the violence, Tempo said the FAO had had to slow down its efforts in the region for security reasons.
In Honduras, for example, the FEWS NET found that poverty had increased by about 40% compared with 2014. “The FEWS NET called the increase extreme undernourishment which was only assessed in 2013.”
But officials stressed that hunger could be much worse than the figures suggest, due to the difficulty of obtaining accurate data in Latin America.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in April that malnutrition rates in all 15 countries and territories in the region remained high and needed to be addressed urgently.
The situation was so acute that a WHO-supported programme was deployed in November 2016 to measure every metric of malnutrition in all 15 countries.
In 2017, 41.5% of children in the region were chronically malnourished, 10.7 percentage points higher than the global average, the FEWS NET said. Only 36.6% of children in the region were getting enough iron in their diet, 2.8 percentage points lower than the global average.
The UN estimates that at least 59 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance across the region.