Higher costs seen plunging tens of millions into hunger

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — An additional 75 million people have fallen beneath the hunger threshold as a result of rising costs, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in a Sept. 18 update. The setback in the fight against global hunger raises the undernourished population worldwide to 923 million.

The increase is particularly troubling, since the U.N. has been working toward reductions in world hunger.

"High food prices have reversed the previously positive trend toward achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the proportion of people suffering from hunger worldwide by 2015," according to new figures just released by the F.A.O. ahead of an upcoming General Assembly meeting on the hunger reduction goals.

The current figure of 923 million chronically hungry is up from 848 million in 2003-05 and 842 million in 1990-92, the F.A.O. said.

The organization blamed higher food, fuel and fertilizer prices for the problem. Food prices climbed 52% in 2007-08 and fertilizer prices nearly doubled.

"The devastating effects of high food prices on the number of hungry people compound already worrisome long-term trends," said Hafez Ghanem, FAO assistant director-general for economic and social development. "Hunger increased as the world grew richer and produced more food than ever during the last decade."

With a goal of reducing the number of the world’s hungry by 500 million in the next several years increasingly elusive, the F.A.O. said progress needs to be made both in making food more accessible to the world’s most vulnerable and by helping small producers raise production and earn more.

The F.A.O. has taken steps on these two fronts, including a December 2007 Initiative on Soaring Prices aimed at helping vulnerable countries implement measures to boost food supplies and offer policy support to improve access to food.

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