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Vatican official calls for action after U.N. reports rising hunger rate

VATICAN CITY — After the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization projected a drastic increase in hunger and malnutrition due to the coronavirus, a Vatican official called on the international community to work together to combat poverty.

In an interview with Vatican News July 13, Msgr. Fernando Chica Arellano, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the FAO, said the COVID-19 pandemic has not caused new problems but instead “has worsened already existing problems.”

“Hunger and poverty are related” issues, he said. “Peace and, above all, the issue of cooperation and solidarity are related. The world must invest in peace, solidarity and justice. Otherwise, the world’s problems will continue.”

According to the FAO’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 report, an estimated 690 million people went hungry in 2019. The coronavirus pandemic, it projected, “may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world.”

“The world is not on track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030,” the report said, referring to one of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. “If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger will surpass 840 million by 2030 or 9.8 percent of the population. This is an alarming scenario, even without taking into account the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Msgr. Chica told Vatican News that the report not only highlights the problems with hunger but also malnutrition and accessibility to healthy food sources.

“The problem is that while there are food products available, not everyone is able to obtain them. They are not accessible and then, (if they are accessible), they are not healthy. Many people eat food that lacks micronutrients. And so, if the diet isn’t healthy, it results in obesity-related illnesses,” he said.

Recalling Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Msgr. Chica said its focus on the importance of education extends to teaching future generations how to eat a healthy diet.

“Children often focus on diets that are saturated with fats. We need to teach them how to eat well. Therefore, the importance of education is fundamental, starting from the family and naturally, from school,” he said.

Msgr. Chica also said that just policies are needed in the world that side with local producers and guarantee people have access to food markets. He also called on governments to reduce the cost of nutritious food “because without this, diets cannot be healthy” and will lead to an increase in noninfectious diseases, such as obesity and diabetes.

“We must invest in agriculture, a sustainable agriculture that not only thinks of today but also of tomorrow because the world doesn’t belong just to us,” he said. “It belongs to young people who expect from us a better world, not just an accumulation of filth. It belongs to them, it’s an inheritance that we must leave to them.”

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