By Maytaal Angel
LONDON (Reuters) -The world must ensure access to food supplies as forcefully as it moved to ensure access to vaccines, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said at the opening of the United Nations Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome.
"The health crisis (COVID-19) has led to a food crisis," he said, citing data showing malnutrition in all its forms has become the leading cause of ill health and death in the world.
The U.N.'s first ever Food Systems Summit will take place in September, with the aim of delivering progress on the body's 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs).
According to the latest U.N. data, the world's food system, which involves cutting down forests to plant crops, is responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a leading cause of climate change.
"We are off track to achieve the SDGs," said U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who first announced his plan to convene the Food Systems Summit in October 2019, before COVID-19 dramatically slowed progress towards SDGs like zero hunger.
After remaining virtually unchanged for five years, world hunger and malnutrition rose last year by around 118 million people to 768 million, with most of the increase likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a major U.N. report.
On internationally traded markets, world food prices were up 33.9% year-on-year in June, according to the U.N food agency's price index, which measures a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar.
There is increased diplomatic momentum to tackle hunger, malnutrition and the climate crisis this year with summits like the current one, but the challenge is huge.
Guterres said the pre-summit will assess progress towards achieving the SDGs by transforming global food systems, which, he noted, are also responsible for 80% of the world's biodiversity loss.
(Reporting by Maytaal Angel; Editing by Giles Elgood and Steve Orlofsky)