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World's malnourished near one billion

Latest update : 2008-09-17

The number of people plagued by acute hunger rose from 850 million to 925 million last year due to rising prices, said the head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Jacques Diouf, calling for urgent efforts to address the crisis.

The number of people suffering from malnutrition, before the worst effects of global price rises, "rose just in 2007 by 75 million," Jacques Diouf, director-general of the Rome-based agency, told an Italian parliament committee, according to ANSA news agency.

An FAO prices index showed global food price rises of 12 percent in 2006, 24 percent in 2007 and 50 percent over the first eight months of 2008, Diouf added -- suggesting the number affected is likely to top one billion by the end of the year.

"Thirty billion dollars per year must be invested to double food production and eliminate hunger," Diouf said, calling the figure "modest" in comparison with the amount many countries spend on arms and agriculture.

An FAO summit vowed in June to halve global hunger by 2015 and take "urgent" action over the global food crisis, but only after going into overtime at the fractious gathering.

In a final declaration at the summit -- which saw some 6.5 billion dollars (4.6 billion euros) pledged, but which exposed strains notably over biofuels -- world leaders also agreed to boost food production in poor countries.

The declaration restated similar conclusions from food summits in 1996 and 2002.

Diouf said previously that "under the current trends, that objective would be obtained in 2150 instead of 2015."

Rising food prices have pushed 100 million people below the poverty line, the World Bank has estimated, and have sparked protests and even riots in some parts of the world, while also threatening world economic growth.

Experts have blamed a number of factors such as oil prices, growing use of biofuels and increased consumption of high-calorie food, particularly meat, in emerging economies.

The UN food relief agency said last month it had begun implementing a 214 million dollar programme aimed at 16 "hunger hotspots" around the world in the face of soaring food prices.

The programme includes food rations for highly vulnerable groups, feeding children even during school holidays, giving extra food to needy pregnant women and young childen, expanding food assistance to urban areas hardest hit by high food prices, and supporting small farmers and markets, the WFP said.

Half the aid, 104 million dollars, is directed at more than 11 million people in 14 countries particularly hard-hit by high food prices, including help to urban areas where "food is unaffordable and there is risk of discontent," the statement said.

Another 110 million dollars has been released for the conflict-ridden Horn of Africa, where the WFP has added funds from emergency reserves to meet urgent food needs.

In neighbouring Ethiopia, more than 10 million people are affected by drought, it said.

The other populations targeted are in Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea, Haiti, Liberia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, the occupied Palestinian territories, Pakistan, Senegal, Tajikistan, Uganda and Yemen.

Date created : 2008-09-17