Urban poor facing increasing malnutrition, FAO warns

Posted: 14 June 2001

Most cities in developing countries face the prospect of increased malnutrition and health risks if they do not improve people's access to adequate and safe food, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In a statement issued in June 2001 at a seminar held as part of the UN General Assembly's Special Session on Istanbul+5,Olivio Argenti of FAO said:

"Feeding cities means that more food needs to be produced, moved to cities and distributed within the expanding urban areas. This in turn means more lorries, greater market congestion, higher piles of garbage, greater risks of food contamination and greater soil, water and air pollution."

He said many cities are rapidly losing access to local land suitable for food production, have insufficient and inefficient transport, markets and slaughterhouses.

"Urban planners and managers rarely take these issues into consideration," he added. "Governments, mayors, urban planners and the private sector need to pay more attention to the problems of increasing food insecurity and malnutrition in cities."Market in Yeji, Lake Volta, Ghana. Credit: FAO/P. Cecini

The concentration and increasing number of poor people in cities makes food insecurity an extremely pressing social and political issue. The number of unemployed people, poor women, the elderly and children living in cities is growing fast. "These people do not have their own homes, live in areas at risk where access to safe food becomes more and more difficult and costly."

Around 50 per cent of the urban population in Africa live in poverty: in Latin America around 40 per cent of all urban households are poor. The population living below the poverty level in Sao Paulo is estimated to be between 60 and 70 per cent of the total population. In Calcutta, the proportion of urban poor is around 70 per cent, and 45 per cent in Karachi.

"The efficiency of food supply and distribution systems has to be significantly and urgently increased in order to lower food prices and to improve environmental and health conditions."

In particular, FAO voiced concern over the alarming state of food wholesale and retail markets in many developing countries. "They are poorly maintained and managed and are often too old and too small to meet the food needs of the growing population." In many cities, markets are chaotic, congested and unhygienic. They are rarely well equipped with water, electricity or drainage.

FAO said "Access to healthy and nutritious food will be an increasingly important issue in the world's cities as they continue to experience rapid population growth. Improving urban food security is essential for attaining a safer and more stable social climate in developing countries."