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Number of hungry people still ‘unacceptably high’

Yesterday, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said that the number of hungry people in the world remains unacceptably high despite expected recent gains that have pushed the figure below 1 billion.

The new estimate of the number of people who will suffer chronic hunger this year is 925 million — 98 million down from 1.023 billion in 2009.

“But with a child dying every six seconds because of undernourishment related problems, hunger remains the world’s largest tragedy and scandal,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Kahama, Tanzania. Hunger is still a major problem in Africa.

The continuing high global hunger level “makes it extremely difficult to achieve not only the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) but also the rest of the MDGs,” Diouf warned.

“The achievement of the international hunger reduction target is at serious risk,” he added, further noting that recent increases in food prices, if they persist, could hamper efforts to further reduce the numbers of the world’s hungry.

“Vigorous and urgent action by nations and the world has been effective in helping to halt galloping hunger numbers,” said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran. “But this is no time to relax.  We must keep hunger on the run to ensure stability and to protect lives and dignity.”

According to the report, the 2010 lower global hunger number resulted largely from renewed economic growth expected this year — particularly in developing countries — and the drop in food prices since mid-2008. But there was a warning that if the recent increase in food prices continues, it will create obstacles to the further reduction of hunger.

Of the eight Millennium Development Goals solemnly agreed by the UN in 2000, MDG 1 pledged to halve the proportion of hungry people from 20 to 10 percent by 2015. But, with five years to go, that proportion currently stands at 16 percent.
In fact, in 1996, a World Food Summit had for the first time set a quantitative target of halving the number of hungry people from roughly 800 million in 1990-92 to about 400 million by 2015. Achieving that goal would mean cutting the number of hungry by over 500 million in the next five years.  

The fact that historically the number of undernourished continued to increase even in periods of high growth and relatively low prices indicates that hunger is a structural problem, FAO said. It is therefore clear that economic growth, while essential, will not be sufficient to eliminate hunger within an acceptable period of time, FAO added. But “success stories do exist in Africa, in Asia and in Latin America,” Diouf noted. These experiences need to be scaled up and replicated.

Globally, the 2010 hunger figure marked a decline of 9.6 percent from the 2009 level. This reduction was mostly concentrated in Asia, where 80 million fewer people were estimated to be going hungry this year. In sub-Saharan Africa the drop was much smaller – about 12 million – and one out of three people there would continue to be undernourished.

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