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ROME, Oct 9 2012 (IPS) - New data from the United Nations reveals that there has been progress in reducing the number of hungry people worldwide. But an estimate that nearly 870 million people, one in eight, suffered from chronic undernourishment over the last two years is “unacceptable”, experts say.
The number of chronically hungry people has declined by 130 million since 1990, falling from around one billion people to 868 million. The vast majority of these people, 852 million, live in developing countries, which means that 15 percent of the developing world suffers from hunger, while 16 million people are undernourished in developed countries.
Meanwhile, the proportion of the global population that is classified as ‘undernourished’ dropped from 18.6 percent in 1990 to the current level of 12.5 percent, and from 23.2 percent to 14.9 percent in developing countries.
The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 (SOFI), jointly released by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), “presents better estimates of chronic undernourishment based on an improved methodology and data for the last two decades.”
The report suggests that if “appropriate actions” are taken to feed the hungry and reverse the slowdown of 2007-2008, the goal of halving the number of hungry people in the developing world by 2015 is still attainable.
“If the average annual hunger reduction of the past 20 years continues through to 2015, the percentage of undernourishment in developing countries (will) reach 12.5 percent – still above the MDG (Millennium Development Goal) target of 11.6 percent, but much closer to it than previously estimated,” the report says.
“The good news is that we have some progress but it still means that one person in every eight goes hungry, and that is unacceptable,” FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva told reporters at the FAO headquarters on Tuesday. “To the FAO the only acceptable number with hunger is zero.”
“Even if we halve the world’s hungry by 2015, it is necessary to look forward and towards the total eradication of hunger, answering the call made at the Rio+20 Summit by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his ‘Zero Hunger Challenge’,” said Graziano da Silva.
The situation is particularly bad in Africa, where the number of hungry has grown in the last twenty years from 175 to 239 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, the modest progress achieved in recent years was reversed in 2007, with hunger rising two percent annually since then.
Despite population growth, the prevalence of undernourishment in Asia and the Pacific decreased from 23.7 percent to 13.9 percent, largely due to socio-economic progress in many countries in the region.
Developed regions also saw the number of hungry rise from 13 million to 16 million between 2004 and 2012.
The new data was gathered using updated information on population, food supply, food losses, dietary energy requirements and a more accurate calculation of the distribution of food within countries. This methodology does not capture the short-term effects of food price surges and other economic shocks but focuses exclusively on the number of chronically hungry people worldwide.
Economic growth is necessary for sustainable and sustained progress in reducing hunger and malnutrition, according to the report. However it also found that growth alone is not sufficient if governments do not “use the additional revenues from economic growth to create targeted measures to help hungry people”.
In order to achieve really inclusive growth, “social protection systems are needed to ensure that the most vulnerable can also benefit from growth and participate in it”.
The FAO estimates that childhood malnutrition causes the deaths of more than 2.5 million children every year. Decreased food consumption can reduce children’s intake of key nutrients during the first thousand days of life, starting from conception.
“We know that proper nutrition in this period gives a child the best possible start in life,” Valerie Guarnieri, WFP’s head of programme, told IPS. “Inadequate nutrition during that phase (could cause) irreversible consequences to child growth and development. If we can ensure that a pregnant mother and a child up until the age of two have access to that adequate nutrition then the development of the brain is stimulated, the growth of the child is stimulated (and) they will have the best opportunity to participate and learn in school.
“And that even contributes to higher income and growth for themselves and their families as they progress through life,” she added.
The report also stresses the link between agricultural growth involving small farmers and malnutrition reduction in poor countries. “There is huge potential to tackle poverty through smart agricultural growth,” Carlos Seré, chief development strategist of IFAD, told IPS. “The starting point has to be an inclusive growth model, and a very efficient and sustainable approach is required.”
Agricultural growth involving smallholders, especially women, is reported to be most effective in reducing extreme poverty and hunger when it generates employment for the poor.
While indicating progress, the U.N. data elicited sceptical responses from civil society.
According to Marco de Ponte, secretary general of ActionAid, Italy, the reported decrease in the number of hungry people is mainly due to the fact that the global food price crisis had less of an impact on countries like China, India and Indonesia than was previously calculated.
“This means that the (new) data does not result from a stronger political commitment by governments (to reduce hunger),” he told IPS.
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