Hunger reduction still way off target

Posted: 14 November 2001

The number of hungry people declined by only 6 million a year on average, during the 1990s, according to a new UN report.

At this rate it would take 60 years to reduce the number of hungry people to 400 million, the target the 1996 World Food Summit promised to reach not later than the year 2015. "Clearly, there has been a slowdown in the reduction of undernourishment in the world," the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says in its latest Food Insecurity Report 2001.

To achieve the World Food Summit goal of halving the number undernourished in developing countries by 2015, the average annual decrease required is no longer 20 million but 22 million - well above the current level of performance, the report says.

It estimates indicate that, in 1997-99, there were 815 million undernourished people in the world: 777 million in developing countries, 27 million in countries transitioning to market economies and 11 million in industrialized countries.

A spokesman said FAO is particularly concerned that undernutrition among children could worsen due to various factors, including poor economic prospects and HIV/AIDS. We estimate that at least 180 million children under 10 years of age are part of the 777 million people estimated to be chronically undernourished in the developing world."

The overall decline in the number of undernourished in the developing regions hides contrasting trends in different countries, the report said. "Only 32 of the 99 developing countries studied recorded a decrease in the number of undernourished people between 1990-92 and 1997-99." But, the number either did not fall or actually increased in the other developing countries.

The report explains, "Because the first group includes several large countries, such as China, Indonesia and Thailand in Asia, Nigeria in Africa and Brazil in Latin America, the total reduction achieved outweighed the total increase in the second, a numerically larger group of countries. Hence the net reduction of 39 million."

Among the developing countries the report examines, two extremes in performance emerge. China, a country that achieved stunning economic and agricultural growth in the 1990s reduced its number of hungry people by 76 million. On the other hand, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a potentially very rich country, saw its number of undernourished grow by 17 million between 1990-92 and 1997-99, out of an estimated total population of 48 million people in the latter period.

However, the report cautions, "Despite China's good performance, the country is still home to the world's second largest number of undernourished people after India."

While saying that world food production must continue to grow to meet the Summit target, the report notes that "a smaller increase in production would suffice if its growth were accompanied by more equitable access to food. This could be achieved through redistribution - of food itself, of the means of producing it or of the purchasing power needed to buy it - to those currently on the lower rungs of the food access ladder." Unfortunately, the experience of the past 30 years shows no significant decline in inequity of access among households in most countries.

Related link:

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2001