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UN says a third of Arab world's population does not have enough to eat

The Food and Agriculture Organisation says that 69 million people across Arab countries suffered from malnutrition last year
A Syrian child sifts through a garbage dump near an oil field in Malikiya countryside, in northeast Syria, in search for something to sell, repurpose or even eat on 12 January 2021 (AFP)

A third of the 420 million people in the Arab world do not have enough food to eat in both conflict-affected and non-conflict affected countries, the United Nations said in a report on Thursday.

The world body's Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that the number of those malnourished in the Arab world rose by 4.8 million people to 69 million, nearly 16 percent of the population, between 2019 and 2020.

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"The increase in the levels of undernourishment has occurred across all income levels, in conflict-affected as well as non-conflict countries," the FAO said.

"In addition, nearly 141 million people did not have access to adequate food in 2020 - an increase of more than 10 million people since 2019."

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused “another major shock”, it said. 

Conflict-hit Somalia and Yemen remained the worst-affected countries last year, with nearly 60 percent of Somalis going hungry and more than 45 percent of Yemenis undernourished.

"Yemen had the highest prevalence of anaemia in 2020, affecting 61.5 percent of women of reproductive age," it said.

Over the past two decades, hunger in the Arab world has increased by 91.1 percent, according to the report.

"Rates of stunting (20.5 percent) and overweight (10.7 percent) among children under five years of age were high in 2020," the FAO noted.

It said adult obesity, especially in the richer Arab states, was also on the rise.

"The latest year estimate for the Arab region shows that 28.8 percent of the adult population was obese, i.e. more than double the global average of 13.1 percent."