Number of world's hungry tops one billion

The annual report of the Food and Agricultural Organization, a UN agency, shows that 1.2 billion people were undernourished in 2009. The situation is the worst since 1970.


AFP - The food crisis in poor countries coupled with the global economic crisis have caused a spike in world hunger, with more than one billion people undernourished this year, the UN food agencies said Wednesday.

"No nation is immune and, as usual, it is the poorest countries -- and the poorest people -- that are suffering the most," said FAO head Jacques Diouf and WFP chief Josette Sheeran in this year's annual report on global food security.

"Even before the food crisis and the economic crisis, the number of hungry people had been increasing slowly but steadily," says the report compiled jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme.

"With the onset of these crises, however, the number of hungry people in the world increased sharply," said the Rome-based agencies.

"FAO estimates that 1.02 billion people are undernourished worldwide in 2009," it said. "This represents more hungry people than at any time since 1970 and a worsening of the unsatisfactory trends that were present even before the economic crisis."

The number of hungry has topped the one billion mark for the first time since 1970, but is a smaller proportion of the world total, which is now nearing seven billion compared with less than four billion four decades ago.

The largest population of the under-nourished is in the Asia-Pacific region, with 642 million, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (265 million), Latin America (53 million) and the Middle East and North Africa (42 million). Some 15 million people suffer from hunger in the developed world.

Since 2007, high food prices have sparked riots in more than 60 countries.

The report comes out ahead of World Food Day on Friday, capping a week of talks among some 300 experts focussing on feeding the world in 2050, when the UN forecasts a global population of 9.1 billion.

"The World Food Summit target of reducing the number of undernourished people by half to no more than 420 million by 2015 will not be reached if the trends that prevailed before those crises continue," the report warned.

FAO Director General Diouf is to present a "toolbox" for helping countries fight hunger on Thursday.

The financial crisis has led to declines in foreign aid and investment in poor countries as well as remittances from relatives working in wealthy countries, the report noted.

"This loss of income is compounded by food prices that are still relatively high in the local markets of many poor countries," the FAO said.

The UN agencies urged investment in agriculture and safety nets "despite the financial constraints faced by governments around the world."

On Friday, five new goodwill ambassadors will be named: US Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis, French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, French football star Patrick Vieira, and singer-songwriters Anggun and Fanny Lu of France and Colombia.

The FAO is to host a World Summit for Food Security November 16-18 in Rome, with the participation of Pope Benedict XVI at the opening session.

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