FAO and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today said that the number of hungry people in the world remains unacceptably high despite expected recent gains that have pushed the figure below 1 billion.
The new estimate of the number of people who will suffer chronic hunger this year is 925 million — 98 million down from 1.023 billion in 2009.
"But with a child dying every six seconds because of undernourishment related problems, hunger remains the world's largest tragedy and scandal," said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. "This is absolutely unacceptable."
MDGs achievement difficult
The continuing high global hunger level "makes it extremely difficult to achieve not only the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) but also the rest of the MDGs," Diouf warned.
"The achievement of the international hunger reduction target is at serious risk," he added, further noting that recent increases in food prices, if they persist, could hamper efforts to further reduce the numbers of the world's hungry.
"Vigorous and urgent action by nations and the world has been effective in helping to halt galloping hunger numbers," said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran. "But this is no time to relax. We must keep hunger on the run to ensure stability and to protect lives and dignity."
The new hunger figure is contained in the annual flagship report, "The State of Food Insecurity in the World" (SOFI) to be jointly published by FAO and WFP in October. The figure was released in advance of the September 20-22 Summit meeting in New York called to speed progress towards achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the first of which is to end poverty and hunger.
Last May Diouf also launched a "1 billionhungry campaign" aimed at inciting world leaders into taking firm and urgent action to end hunger. More than half a million people have already signed an online petition calling on politicians to make hunger reduction their top priority and a million are expected by the end of this year.
Yukiko Omura, Vice President of IFAD, said, "the world's hungry are not just numbers. They are people — poor women and men struggling to bring up their children and give them a better life; and they are youth trying to build a future for themselves. It is ironic that the majority of them actually live in rural areas of developing countries. Indeed, over 70 percent of the world's extremely poor — those people who live on less than US$ one a day — live in rural areas. That's a billion people, and four out of five of them are farmers to some extent or the other."
Economic growth, lower prices
The 2010 lower global hunger number resulted largely from renewed economic growth expected this year — particularly in developing countries — and the drop in food prices since mid-2008. The recent increase in food prices, if it continues, will create obstacles in the further reduction of hunger.
Of the eight Millennium Development Goals solemnly agreed by the UN in 2000, MDG 1 pledged to halve the proportion of hungry people from 20 to 10 percent by 2015.With five years to go, that proportion currently stands at 16 percent, however.
Previously, in 1996, a World Food Summit had for the first time set a quantitative target of halving the number of hungry people from roughly 800 million in 1990-92 to about 400 million by 2015. Achieving that goal would mean cutting the number of hungry by over 500 million in the next five years.
The fact that historically the number of undernourished continued to increase even in periods of high growth and relatively low prices indicates that hunger is a structural problem, FAO said. It is therefore clear that economic growth, while essential, will not be sufficient to eliminate hunger within an acceptable period of time, FAO added. But "success stories do exist in Africa, in Asia and in Latin America," Diouf noted. These experiences need to be scaled up and replicated.
Globally, the 2010 hunger figure marked a decline of 9.6 percent from the 2009 level. This reduction was mostly concentrated in Asia, where 80 million fewer people were estimated to be going hungry this year. In sub-Saharan Africa the drop was much smaller - about 12 million - and one out of three people there would continue to be undernourished.
Other key findings of the report included:
- Two thirds of the world's undernourished live in just seven countries — Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan.
- The region with the most undernourished people continues to be Asia and the Pacific with 578 million.
- The proportion of undernourished people remains highest in sub-Saharan Africa at 30 percent in 2010, or 239 million.
- Progress varies widely at country level. As of 2005-2007 (the most recent period for which complete data was available), the Congo, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria had already achieved MDG 1 in sub-Saharan Africa, and Ethiopia and others are close to achieving it. However, the proportion of undernourished rose to 69 percent in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- In Asia, Armenia, Myanmar and Viet Nam had already achieved MDG 1 and China is close to doing so.
- In Latin America and the Caribbean, Guyana, Jamaica and Nicaragua had already achieved MDG1 while Brazil is coming close.