'One-sixth of humanity' will go hungry in 2009: F.A.O.

by Bryan Salvage
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ROME — In 2009, world hunger is projected to reach a historic high with 1.020 million people going hungry every day, according to new estimates published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (F.A.O.).

The most recent increase in hunger is being caused by the world economic crisis, which has resulted in lower incomes and increased unemployment. This has reduced access to food by the poor, F.A.O. relayed.

"A dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty," said Jacques Diouf, F.A.O. Director-General. "The silent hunger crisis — affecting one- sixth of all of humanity — poses a serious risk for world peace and security. We urgently need to forge a broad consensus on the total and rapid eradication of hunger in the world and to take the necessary actions. The present situation of world food insecurity cannot leave us indifferent.

Poor countries must be given the development, economic and policy tools required to boost their agricultural production and productivity, he added. Investment in agriculture must be increased because for the majority of poor countries a healthy agricultural sector is essential to overcome poverty and hunger and is a pre-requisite for overall economic growth.

Progress was made in reducing chronic hunger in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, but hunger has been growing slowly and steadily for the past decade, F.A.O. stated. The total number of hungry people increased between 1995-97 and 2004-06 in all regions except Latin America and the Caribbean. But even in this region, gains in hunger reduction have been reversed as a result of high food prices and the current global economic downturn.

The number of hungry people this year is expected to grow by approximately 11%, F.A.O. projects.

Almost the entire world's undernourished live in developing countries. In Asia and the Pacific, an estimated 642 million people are suffering from chronic hunger; in Sub-Saharan Africa 265 million; in Latin America and the Caribbean 53 million; in the Near East and North Africa 42 million; and in developed countries 15 million in total.

The urban poor will probably face the most severe problems in coping with the global recession because lower export demand and reduced foreign direct investment are more likely to hit urban jobs harder.

While food prices in world markets declined over the past months, domestic prices in developing countries came down more slowly. They remained on average 24% higher in real terms by the end of 2008 compared to 2006. For poor consumers, who spend up to 60% of their incomes on staple foods, this means a strong reduction in their effective purchasing power. It should also be noted that while they declined, international food commodity prices are still 24% higher than in 2006 and 33% higher than in 2005.

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