Hunger number drops, still 'unacceptably high'

by Eric Schroeder
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ROME — The number of people suffering chronic hunger fell nearly 10% in 2010, to 925 million from 1.023 billion in 2009, according to the United Nation’s World Food Program (W.F.P.) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Despite the decline, though, the number of hungry people remains “unacceptably high,” the F.A.O. said.

“With a child dying every six seconds because of undernourishment related problems, hunger remains the world’s largest tragedy and scandal,” said Jacques Diouf, director-general of the F.A.O. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”
Mr. Diouf said the 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.”

Eight MDGs were agreed to by the United Nations in 2000, and MDG 1 pledged to halve the proportion of hungry people from 20% to 10% by 2015. With five years to go, that proportion currently stands at 16%.

“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, may hamper efforts to further reduce the numbers of the world's hungry.

The release of the new hunger figure is included in “The State of Food Insecurity in the World,” an annual report jointly published by the F.A.O. and the W.F.P. and set for release in October. The hunger figure was disclosed in advance of the Sept. 20-22 Summit meeting in New York called to speed progress toward achievement of the MDGs.

According to the F.A.O., the lower global hunger number in 2010 reflected renewed economic growth expected this year — particularly in developing countries — and the drop in food prices since mid-2008. But the F.A.O. cautioned that the recent increase in food prices, if it continues, will create obstacles in the further reduction of hunger.

The 10% reduction in global hunger primarily was concentrated in Asia, where 80 million fewer people were estimated to be going hungry this year, the F.A.O. said. In sub-Saharan Africa the drop was much smaller — about 12 million — and one out of three people there would continue to be undernourished.

Other key findings of the report included:

• Two thirds of the world's undernourished live in just seven countries — Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan.
• The region with the most undernourished people continues to be Asia and the Pacific with 578 million.
• The proportion of undernourished people remains highest in sub-Saharan Africa at 30% in 2010, or 239 million.
• Progress varies widely at country level. As of 2005-2007 (the most recent period for which complete data was available), the Congo, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria already had achieved MDG 1 in sub-Saharan Africa, and Ethiopia and others are close to achieving it. However, the proportion of undernourished rose to 69% in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
• In Asia, Armenia, Myanmar and Vietnam already had achieved MDG 1 and China is close to doing so.
• In Latin America and the Caribbean, Guyana, Jamaica and Nicaragua already had achieved MDG1 while Brazil is coming close.

The report comes 14 years after a World Food Summit 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.

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