Poverty and hunger

Posted: 14 December 2007

Some 1.1 billion people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are materially poor, with incomes of less than a dollar a day. Around 2.6 billion live on less than US$2 a day. Many of the poor are jobless, voiceless and powerless, either landless or have tiny plots, If they work in the informal economy they are often underemployed. Women and girls make up 70 per cent of their number. They are poorly educated and in poor health, their housing and shelter are meagre and they have few resources. Their life expectancy is short and declining in some countries.

"Their destitution persists even though human conditions have improved more in the past century than in rest of history - global wealth, global connections and the technological capabilities have never been greater. But the distribution of these global gains is extraordinarily unequal". (World Bank).

  • Between 1987 and 2004, the number of the poor on the African continent increased from about 217 million in 1987 to about 291 million in 1998, and to 298 million in 2004. While the rate of increase is slowing, 41 per cent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is fully poor. (World Bank)

  • Globalization "though it has been benign for the majority of the developing world, is not working for the bottom billion and is not likely to do so. On the contrary, it is liable to make them increasingly marginalized" - Paul Collier, The Bottom Billion.

  • Climate change is worsening the plight of the poor. "While the citizens of the rich world are protected from harm, the poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh reality of climate change in their everyday lives...the world's poor are being harmed through a problem that is not of their making", according to the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report 2007/2008.

  • The poverty of the poor means that most do not have enough land to grow the food they need, or the money to buy it. They may go hungry even when food is relatively plentiful in the area where they live. Nor do they generally have good access to social services such as education, reproductive health and family planning. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, 854 million people are chronically hungry.

  • India has 212 million undernourished people, China 150 million, other Asia and Pacific countries 162 million, Sub-Saharan Africa 206 million, Latin America and the Caribbean 52 million, Near East and North Africa 37 million. While the largest number of chronically hungry people is in Asia, the depth of hunger is the greatest in Sub-Saharan Africa. (Source: FAO: SOFI 2006)

  • The minimum number of kilocalories that a person needs varies between 1,710 and 1,960 per day. Many of the chronically hungry people are short of more than 400 kilocalories.

  • The total number of undernourished people in developing countries in 2015 is projected by the FAO at 582 million. This would fall 170 million short of the World Food Summit target of 412 million. More than half of these would be concentrated in South Asia and East Asia, with 203 million and 123 million respectively. Sub-Saharan Africa would be home to 179 million hungry - more than double the target set at the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996.

  • FAO's projections suggest that the prevalence of hunger in sub-Saharan Africa will decline by 2015 but that the number of hungry people will not fall below that of 1990-92. By then, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to around 30 per cent of the undernourished people in the developing world, compared with 20 per cent in 1990-92.

  • Governments made a commitment at the 1996 WFS to cut by half the number of chronically hungry people by 2015. Western governments have since cut their development aid to agriculture. But this has fallen sharply as a proportion of overall development assistance. In 1982, 17 per cent of all aid went to agriculture. By 2002, this had fallen to 3.7 per cent. "The declining support for agriculture is extremely damaging to efforts to reduce poverty and hunger", says a UN International Fund for Agricultural Development report.