Five Million Children Die of Hunger Every Year

NEW YORK, New York, December 10, 2004 (ENS) - Hunger and malnutrition kill five million children each year and cost developing countries billions of dollars in lost productivity, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) annual hunger report. Without the direct costs of dealing with the damage caused by hunger, more funds would be available to combat other social problems, the agency says.

FAO spokesperson Hartwig de Haen said, "It is possible that the international community has not fully grasped the economic bounce they would get from investments in hunger reduction. Enough is known about how to end hunger and now is the time to capture the momentum toward that goal. It is a matter of political will and prioritization."

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Hungry flood victims in Bangladesh receive a delivery of high energy biscuits (Photo courtesy World Food Programme)
The number of hungry people in the world rose to 852 million in the 2000-2002 period, up by 18 million from the mid-1990s, the UN agency reports, but they are not all in developing countries.

The total includes 815 million hungry people in the developing countries, and 28 million in the countries in transition but in industrialized countries, nine million people go to bed hungry every night, the FAO says.

Florence Chenoweth, New York office director of FAO, said, "Progress in reducing hunger has been far too slow."

"Being underweight is the single most significant risk factor for loss of productive life," she said.

Nevertheless, "more rapid progress is possible," Chenoweth said, citing statistics showing that more than 30 countries in all regions of the world, with a total population of 2.2 billion, reduced their proportion of hungry people by 25 percent or more during the 1990s.

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School children in Ecuador are fed by the UN World Food Programme (Photo by A.K. Brodeur courtesy WFP)
Those countries are: Angola, Benin, Brazil, Chad, Chile, China, Republic of Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guyana, Ecuador, Haiti, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kuwait, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nigeria, Peru, Syria, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay and Vietnam.

The report, "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004," says there is "ample evidence that rapid progress can be made by applying a twin track strategy that attacks both the causes and the consequences of extreme poverty and hunger."

"Track one includes interventions to improve food availability and incomes for the poor by enhancing their productive activities," the report says.

"Track two features targeted programs that give the most needy families direct and immediate access to food."

In a positive development for global food security, the FAO Thursday raised its forecast for this year’s world cereal production, 55 million tons to a record 2.04 billion tons.

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Bags of sorghum, corn soya blend, oil and pulses were dropped from a plane near a West Darfur camp that hosts 20,000 displaced people and is run by Save the Children US. The World Food Programme started airdrop operations over Darfur on August 1 after heavy rains and insecurity risked cutting the camps off from food aid. (Photo by Richard Lee courtesy WFP)
“With this level of production, even after an expected increase in world cereal consumption in 2004-2005, a significant surplus is forecast for the first time since 1999/2000,” the agency said in the December issue of its "Food Outlook," calling it a “positive aspect” following a drop during the last four years.

FAO said that the costs of hunger include millions of premature deaths, high medical costs for both malnourished pregnant women and children weakened by hunger, the effects of disability and stunted learning ability, lost productivity, and eventually lost national income.

UN agencies need the constant support of international donors to keep people the world's most war ravaged regions fed. The world's largest humanitarian agency, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned Wednesday it would be forced to make a drastic cut in food rations for 118,000 refugees in camps in Ethiopia, unless donations of US$4.2 million are made urgently to provide enough food for at least the next six months.

WFP said it needs an additional 8,500 metric tons of cereals, vegetable oil, pulses, salt and blended foods. If new contributions are not forthcoming, WFP must reduce rations by 30 percent from January 2005. Cereal stocks are expected to run out by next April.

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A Myanmar farmer harvests his 2003 dry season rice crop, which grows thanks to a reservoir - the Aung Seik Pyin dam - built by a WFP Food-for-Work project. The dam has increased local production by 30 percent. (Photo by Heather Hill courtesy WFP)
The FAO estimates that developing countries lose from US$500 billion to $1 trillion in productivity and income due to hunger over the course of workers' lifetimes, a figure that represents five to 10 percent of an average one year's gross domestic product in the developing world.

"The direct cost of treating disability and illness caused by hunger in the developing world adds up to roughly $30 billion a year. That is more than five times the amount committed so far to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria - all of which are made far more deadly by hunger and malnutrition," Chenoweth said.

This year's State of Food Insecurity report contains a special feature on globalization, urbanization and changing food systems in developing countries. The article looks at the effects of rapid urbanization and globalization on food systems. It focuses on the spread of large retail chains, such as supermarkets and hypermarkets, in developing countries and examines the impact they are having on small farmers.

FAO says this new commercial phenomenon poses serious challenges for policy-makers in developing countries who are trying to develop rural areas and improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

FAO recommends developing policies and programs that will help small farmers seize opportunities offered the new dynamic markets.

The report also addresses urbanization, the increase of hunger in urban areas, and dietary changes associated with rapid urbanization, including an increase in non-communicable diet-related diseases.

"Many developing countries now face a double challenge - widespread hunger on one hand and rapid increases in diabetes and cardiovascular diseases," the report warns.