Number of hungry people drops

2010-09-15 07:21

Rome, Italy. – The number of chronically hungry people in the world dipped considerably below the 1 billion mark - the first drop in 15 years - thanks partly to a fall in food prices after spikes that sparked rioting a few years ago, UN agencies said.

Still, the agencies said yesterday that an estimated 925 million people are undernourished worldwide, and the latest figures don’t reflect the repercussions from the massive flooding in Pakistan.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) report suggested some progress in the battle to end hunger, but stressed the world is far from achieving the UN-promoted Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of undernourished people from 20% in 1990-92 to 10% in 2015.

The report estimated there are 98 million fewer chronically hungry people than last year, when the figure just topped 1 billion.

UN officials announcing the figures said that 1 800 calories per day is considered the minimum energy intake on average.

Anyone regularly without that intake would be considered undernourished, or “chronically hungry”.

The drop in the chronically hungry is partly because food prices have fallen from peaks in 2007-2008, when they sparked violence in several developing countries, and because cereal and rice harvests have been strong.

Cereal production this year was the third-highest ever recorded, despite a drought-fuelled wheat shortfall in Russia, said FAO director-general Jacques Diouf.

Also heartening, Diouf noted, is that cereal stocks are high – some 100 million tons more than the low levels of 2007-2008, when some 38 countries shut down their food export markets in reaction. Increased demand for biofuels and soaring petroleum prices took much of the blame for the spiralling upward prices then.

Food prices are still “stubbornly” high, but “we haven’t seen the type of behaviour .... panic buying” that helped feed the speculation and fears of a couple of years ago, said Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme.

Earlier this month, a UN human rights expert urged governments to crack down on price speculation and boost food production.

Deadly riots over food prices hit Mozambique recently, and the FAO has called a special meeting for September 24 to discuss recently rising food prices.

The drop below the 1 billion mark also reflects progress China and India have made in feeding their own.

Still, those two nations, with their huge populations, account for 40% of the world’s undernourished people.

Overall, two-thirds of the chronically undernourished live in either China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Ethiopia, the report said.

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