One Billion Hungry

Year of the hungry: 1,000,000,000 afflicted
http://www.independ news/world/ politics/ year-of-the- hungry-10000000
00-afflicted- 1213843.html
By Geoffrey Lean
Sunday, 28 December 2008

Despite the West’s pledge to halve world hunger, the number of people who
are short of food will soon reach a shocking landmark

One billion people will go hungry around the globe next year for the first
time in human history, as the international financial crisis deepens, the
United Nations has told The Independent on Sunday.

The shocking landmark will be passed despite a second record worldwide
harvest in a row because people are becoming too destitute to buy the
food that is produced.

Decades of progress in reducing hunger are being abruptly reversed, dealing
a devastating blow to a pledge by world leaders eight years ago to cut it
in half by 2015.

Rich countries have failed to provide promised money to boost agriculture
in the Third World; the financial crisis is starving developing countries
of credit and driving their people into greater poverty, and food aid to
the starving is expected to begin drying up next month.

Development charities recently called on US president-elect Barack Obama to
put the escalating food crisis “front and centre” of his priorities.

Some 963 million people are now undernourished worldwide, according to the
most recent survey of the crisis by the Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO), and the UN body expects the situation to worsen with the recession.
“The number will rise steadily next year,” an FAO spokesman told the IoS
last week. “We are looking at a billion people. That is clear.” The FAO
fears the tally will go on increasing for years to come.

This directly contradicts an undertaking by the world’s leaders at a
special summit in September 2000 to “reduce by half the proportion of
people who suffer from hunger” from 1990 levels by 2015, as part of an
ambitious set of Millennium Development Goals.

At the time, and for several years afterwards, the goal looked achievable,
if challenging. Between 1990 and 2005 the number of undernourished people
stayed more or less the same at between 800 and 850 million, even though
world population grew by 1.2 billion, meaning that the proportion of a
rapidly increasing humanity that went hungry was steadily falling.

Several countries including Ghana, Peru, Mexico, Chile, Jamaica and
Costa Rica actually exceeded the target years ahead of time, while
others such as Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Mozambique were on track to achieve
it. Twenty-five developing nations looked as if they would be able to halve
the absolute number of their hungry not just the proportion of them in
their rising populations by the target date.

But over the past three years that progress has been thrown abruptly into
reverse, with the first steep and sustained rise in hunger in decades
leaving another 115 million people short of food. The increase began when
prosperity was still increasing and has continued despite bumper harvests;
a new FAO report shows that this year’s grain crop is set to grow by 5.4
per cent to 2,241 million tons, following a 6 per cent rise last year
ahead of population growth.

So the growth in hunger is not occurring, as in the past, because of
shortage of food but because people cannot afford to buy it even when
it is plentiful. The main reason has been that high food prices have priced
the poor out of the market.

Over the 12 months until last summer, wheat and maize prices more than
doubled and rice prices more than tripled. This was due partly to the
growth in biofuels which, the FAO reports, has taken over 100 million tons
of cereals out of food supplies over the past year to fuel cars instead.
One fill of a 4×4’s tank uses enough grain to feed one poor person for a

The organisation also blames speculation, population growth, the shrinking
of food stocks to record lows and the increasing consumption of meat in
developing countries such as China and India, which mops up grain supplies
because they are used to feed livestock.

International prices have fallen sharply since the summer, as this year’s
good harvest has further swelled supplies and the growing financial crisis
has cut demand. But the FAO reports that the lower prices have failed to
ease the crisis, while the increasing financial turmoil has made it worse.

Developing countries have not benefited from the falling worldwide cost of
food, it says, because their currencies have depreciated against the dollar
in which international prices are set and their domestic supplies remain
scarce, keeping prices in local markets at record levels.

Virtually none of the increased production of the past two years has taken
place in the Third World, partly because its farmers have been unable to
afford expensive fertilisers and seeds while the profits of giant
agrochemical and biotech companies have soared. Now as rich countries’
economies slump, they are importing fewer commodities and goods from
developing ones, driving national incomes down and increasing unemployment
and poverty. As employment falls in the West, Third World immigrants are
losing their jobs and are no longer able to send back the money they save
from their wages in remittances to their families, a financial boost that
is often crucial in keeping them out of dire poverty.

Just as serious, the FAO adds, the credit that Third World farmers need to
buy seeds, energy and agricultural chemicals and to improve production
is drying up.

Aid, too, is falling precipitously. Earlier this month, the World Food
Programme the UN agency that provides food to the hungry announced
that it was running out of supplies. Unless it receives more soon it
expects to have to start rationing aid next month, and to run out of food
altogether for needy countries such as Haiti, Sudan and Bangladesh by

At a special summit in June last year, rich governments pledged $12.3bn
8.4bn) to tackle the food crisis, but have so far handed over only $1bn
of it, as they have scrambled to provide trillions to bail out failing

“Overcoming the financial crisis is critical,” concludes the FAO in a
recent report, “but continuing the fight against hunger by realising those
pledged billions is no less important.” Jacques Diouf, the FAO’s director
general, warns: “Unless the political will and donor pledges are turned
into urgent and real actions, millions more will fall into deep poverty.”

Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the World Food Programme, added:
“While we worry about Wall Street and the high street, we are also paying
attention to the needs of those who live in places with no street.” She has
called on governments to devote just 1 per cent of their bailout and
stimulus packages to fighting hunger.

The worst is yet to come, taking the number of hungry beyond the one
billion mark. As food prices fall, the FAO is reporting signs that farmers
in Europe and North America are reducing their plantings for next year’s
harvest and the same thing is likely to happen in the Third World as
the lack of credit stops its farmers from being able to buy the food and
agricultural chemicals they need. So next year’s harvest, it is feared,
will be smaller, even if the weather remains good.

The run of good seasons is unlikely to continue for long, even in the short
run. And in the medium to long term, climate change is expected to make
harvests dramatically worse. Mr Diouf predicts that, if the world fails to
take urgent action to keep global warming beneath 2C, the emerging
international target, “the global food production potential can be expected
to contract severely” with harvests dropping by up to 40 per cent in
Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Global targets: a progress report

Goal one Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger between 1990 and 2015.

Progress 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, down from 42 per cent
of the world population in 1990 to 26 per cent in 2005. Up to 75 per cent
of the population is employed except in parts of Africa and Asia.
Undernourished under-fives dropped from 33 per cent in 1990 to 26 per cent
in 2006.

Success or failure? Still possible by 2015 but lack of progress in
sub-Saharan Africa, where workers earn less than $1 a day.

Goal two Universal primary education by 2015.

Progress 570 million children worldwide enrolled in school. Those not
enrolled fell from 103 million in 1999 to 73 million in 2006. Primary
school enrolment reached 88 per cent in 2006, up 5 per cent per cent from

Success or failure? 38 million children in sub-Saharan Africa are not
enrolled, while in southern Asia 18 million do not go to school. This goal
may not be achieved by 2015, and there are barriers on girls going to

Goal three Promote gender equality in education by 2015 and empower women.

Progress 55 per cent of children not in school are girls. Women occupy
about 30 per cent of parliamentary seats in 20 countries. Women occupy 40
per cent of all paid jobs, up 5 per cent on 1990.

Success or failure? 113 countries failed to achieve equality of enrolment;
only 18 will meet the target. Since 2000, the proportion of women in
parliaments rose from 13.5 to 17.9 per cent.

Goal four Reduce child mortality of under-fives by two-thirds between 1990
and 2015.

Progress Deaths of under-fives declined from 93 to 72 deaths per 1,000 live
births between 1990 and 2006, and child deaths dropped below 10 million a
year in 2006.

Success or failure? Children born in developing countries still 13 times
more likely to die under five. Between 1990 and 2006, 26 countries made no
progress in reducing childhood deaths, while in 27 others the mortality
rate is flat or getting worse.

Goal five Improve maternal health and reduce mortality by two-thirds
between 1990 and 2015.

Progress Maternal mortality decreased by less than 1 per cent per year
between 1990 and 2005; 60 per cent of births were attended by health
professionals in 2006, up 10 per cent since 1990.

Success or failure? 500,000 women a year in developing countries die during
pregnancy. Worst progress of all goals.

Goal six Universal access to treatment for Aids/HIV by 2010 and reverse
spread of HIV/Aids and malaria by 2015.

Progress New HIV cases declined from three million a year in 2001 to 2.7
million in 2007. Funding increased tenfold within a decade. Mosquito net
production rose from 30 million in 2004 to 95 million in 2007.

Success or failure? 7,500 people a day infected with HIV; 5,500 die of
Aids-related illness; 500 million new cases of malaria a year.

Goal seven Reduce loss of biodiversity by 2010 and halve number of people
without access to safe water or sanitation by 2015.

Progress Deforestation declined to 7.3 million hectares a year; 1.6 billion
people have access to drinking water since 1990.

Success or failure? 40 per cent of the world lives with water scarcity, and
fish stocks are overexploited. One billion people still have no access to
safe drinking water and 2.5 billion have no access to basic sanitation, yet
target may still be achieved.

Goal eight Develop a global partnership for development.

Progress The UK is among the few nations to meet targets of giving 0.15 per
cent of gross national Income in aid. The burden of debt in developing
countries fell from 13 per cent of exports in 2000 to 7 per cent in 2006.

Success or failure? Aid dropped from 67bn in 2005 to 64bn in 2007 but
needs to increase by
18bn a year. A third of essential medicines are
available in 30 developing countries.




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