Global hunger was on the rise for the third consecutive year, a joint report by five agencies of the United Nations (UN) stated on Tuesday.
The absolute number of hungry people was estimated in 821 million in 2017 from 804 million in 2016, according to "The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018" report (SOFI).
The study was unveiled by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Program (WFP), UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO), and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in a press conference here at FAO headquarters.
It stressed that global hunger has been following an increasing path since 2015, showing now levels of hunger seen almost a decade ago.
Furthermore, the prevalence of undernourishment -- meaning the share of undernourished people over the world population -- grew as well to 10.9 percent in 2017 from 10.8 percent in 2016.
Africa remained the continent with the highest prevalence of undernourishment, involving some 21 percent of population (over 256 million people), as FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva highlighted in a message on Twitter.
Asia followed as the region with the highest number of undernourished people, which was estimated in 515 million (or 11.4 percent of its population).
"The situation is also deteriorating in South America, where the prevalence of undernourishment has increased from 4.7 percent in 2014 to a projected 5.0 percent in 2017," the SOFI report said.
It added that limited progresses were registered against "multiple forms of malnutrition" -- raging from child stunting to adult obesity -- putting the health of hundreds of millions of people at risk.
Global adult obesity was worsening, with more than one adult out of eight affected by the problem, especially in North America and, to a lesser but growing extent, in Africa and Asia.
"The alarming signs of increasing food insecurity and high levels of different forms of malnutrition are a clear warning that there is a considerable work to be done to make sure we 'leave no one behind'," the chiefs of the five agencies authoring the report warned.
IMPACT OF CLIMATE VARIABILITY
Climate change was detected as one key driver behind the global hunger rise, along with conflicts and economic slowdowns. The alarm referred to both an increased variability in rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, and to climate extremes such as floods and droughts.
"The report sends a clear message," Graziano da Silva said in his opening remarks, highlighting a crucial paragraph of the SOFI 2018.
"(It states that) Climate variability and exposure to more complex, frequent, and intense climate extremes are threatening to erode and reverse gains made in ending hunger and malnutrition: this is the main point," he stressed.
The report pointed out changes in climate were already undermining production of major crops, and that "without building climate resilience, this is expected to worsen, as temperatures increase and become more extreme."
Various analyses confirmed both prevalence and number of undernourished people tended to be higher in countries that were more exposed to climate extremes.
Undernourishment was also higher when the exposure to climate extremes combined with a high proportion of population depending on agriculture systems, which were highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability.
"Temperature anomalies over agricultural cropping areas continued to be higher that the long-term mean throughout 2011-2016, leading to more frequent spells of extreme heat in the last five years," the report warned.
"The nature of rainfall is also changing... the harm to agricultural production contributes to shortfalls in food availability, with knock-on effects causing food price hikes, and income losses that reduce people's access to food."
On this regard, the UN agencies launched "an urgent appeal to accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity" in the face of climate changes.
A less worrying picture concerned hunger levels among children, according to the SOFI 2018. "The rising trend in undernourishment has not yet been reflected in rates of child stunting," the agencies said.
"Nonetheless, we are concerned that nearly 151 million children under five have stunted growth (low height for age) in 2017, while the lives of over 50 million children continue to be threatened by wasting."
More specifically, some 7.5 percent of under-five children (or 50.5 million) were estimated to suffer from wasting last year, with regional prevalence ranging from 1.3 percent in Latin America to 9.7 percent in Asia.
However, both figures marked a drop compared to almost 52 million children under five -- or 8 percent of same-age population -- affected by wasting at global level in 2016 (more than half of whom living in Southern Asia).