World less hungry than before: UN

World less hungry than before: UN

By Barney Porter

Updated Wed Sep 15, 2010 6:00am AEST

Most of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries, where they account for 16 per cent of the population (AFP: Mustafa Ozer, file photo)

 Despite the spate of disasters from Haiti to Pakistan and high domestic food prices in several developing countries, the number of hungry and undernourished people across the world has fallen for the first time in 15 years. The United Nations’ food agency is reporting a 10 per cent drop in the number of people suffering from chronic malnutrition, thanks to improving economic conditions and lower food prices after two years of bumper cereal harvests.

But the head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Jacques Diouf, says while the figure marks an improvement, there is no cause for complacency as one child still dies every six seconds because of undernourishment. It is estimated up to 98 per cent of the world’s hungry live in developing countries, and more than 40 per cent of those are in China and India.

 UN World Food Program executive director Josette Sheeran says the first fall in 15 years is good news, but she notes her organisation alone needs $1 billion by the end of the year to continue its work. “The fact remains that 925 million people are still hungry – a shockingly high number, an unacceptable number. Now is not the time to relax,” she said. As an example, Ms Sheeran has noted an immediate focus for the food agencies.

“I’ve just returned from Pakistan and again saw a population that was already weakened,” she said. “Twenty million people hit with the floods, 10.1 million in need of urgent food assistance but also of a particular kind of assistance that has nutritional content for the children. “So, in Pakistan we have launched the largest deployment ever of highly nutritious food to the children there who were already weakened, were already highly malnourished, in proportions to be able to meet these urgent needs.”

 The FAO says it does not expect to see a new food emergency in the short-term nor a repeat of the riots sparked by the 2007-08 food crisis. It says food stocks and production prospects for cereals are still seen as adequate. But that view has been contradicted by another arm of the UN, the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This week the WHO warned the flooding in Pakistan and Russia’s drought were threatening to spark another food crisis that could endanger the world’s poorest people. The FAO report has been released ahead of next week’s UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals. The UN is aiming to halve the proportion of undernourished people in developing countries from 20 per cent in 1990 to 10 per cent in 2015.

World leaders meeting in New York are expected to declare the set of goals are still achievable. Overnight the newly appointed head of the UN’s General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, was positive.

“We must make good our shortcomings combating hunger, infant mortality and maternal health,” he said. “This is possible. From our discussions next week, we must show true resolve and a plan of action which can ensure the international community can achieve its ambitious goal.” But there are detractors. Non-governmental aid agency Oxfam has largely attributed the latest improved figures to luck, rather than a change in policies or increased investment to address the underlying causes of hunger.

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