Over one billion people to go hungry in 2009, says UN food agency | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 19.06.2009
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Over one billion people to go hungry in 2009, says UN food agency

Some 1.02 billion people are set to go hungry in 2009, a United Nations agency said Friday, blaming the "historic" high figure on the global economic crisis.

Children in a Haiti slum share a bowl of rice and beans, their only meal of the day

It won't just be people from the Third World who will suffer

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that "one sixth of humanity" do not get enough to eat. It predicts an 11 percent increase for all of 2009.

An estimated 642 million of the total are in the Asia-Pacific region, the agency said in a statement. Some 265 million are in sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 52 million in the Middle East and North Africa.

But the FAO says there are also some 15 million hungry in developed countries.

In 2008, the Rome-based UN body revised its estimate of hungry people from 963 million down to 915 million, due primarily to a better-than-expected global food supply.

But since then, the lower incomes and increased unemployment that have resulted from the world economic crisis have reduced access to food for the poor, the FAO said on Friday.

"The most recent increase in hunger is not the consequence of poor global harvests but is caused by the world economic crisis that has resulted in lower incomes and increased unemployment," the statement says.

"Whereas good progress was made in reducing chronic hunger in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, hunger has been slowly but steadily on the rise for the past decade," the FAO elaborates.

"This year, mainly due to the shocks of the economic crisis combined with often high national food prices, the number of hungry people is expected to grow overall by about 11 percent," the agency projects.

Hunger poses risk to global security

A demonstrator throws a tear gas canister back at riot police officers during clashes in La Paz, Bolivia

Rising food prices have already led to social unrest in some countries

"The silent hunger crisis ... poses a serious risk for world peace and security," the statement warns. "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 agency notes: "The economic crisis also comes on the heel of the food and fuel crisis of 2006-08." It adds that, at the end of 2008, food prices "remained on average 24 percent higher in real terms... compared to 2006."

"Unlike previous crises, developing countries have less room to adjust to the deteriorating economic conditions because the turmoil is affecting practically all parts of the world more or less simultaneously," the agency statement adds.

"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," FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said.

Agricultural aid must be increased says agency

Palestinian workers carry flour bags at a United Nations food aid distribution center in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip

More and more people will have to rely on food aid

Poor countries must be given the development, economic and policy tools required to boost their agricultural production and productivity, according to Diouf.

"Many of the world's poor and hungry are smallholder farmers in developing countries. Yet they have the potential not only to meet their own needs but to boost food security and catalyze broader economic growth," Diouf said.

Governments, supported by the international community, need to protect core investments in agriculture so that smallholder farmers have access not only to seeds and fertilizers but to tailored technologies, infrastructure, rural finance, and markets, according to Kanayo Nwanze, who heads another Rome-based UN agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The FAO warns that "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."

However, it says, "rural areas will not be spared. Millions of urban migrants will have to return to the countryside, forcing the rural poor to share the burden in many cases."

nda/AFP/dpa

Editor: Susan Houlton

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