One-sixth of world population goes hungry

  • June 25, 2009
{mosimage}ROME - The global economic crisis has caused an 11-per-cent increase in world hunger in the past year and the total number of hungry people has surpassed one billion for the first time, according to a report from a United Nations agency.

The UN report was released as Pope Benedict XVI, in a letter to German President Horst Kohler, was expressing his concern for the plight of African nations, where more than one-quarter billion people are undernourished (compared to 15 million in the entire developed world).

The Pope’s letter, published in L’Osservatore Romano June 20, said Africa’s future depends on an attitude of sharing and fairness that resists the “law of the strongest” and the pursuit of selfish interests.

“In this context the support of the international community is needed, notwithstanding — and in fact precisely because of — the current financial and economic crisis that is particularly affecting Africa and the poorest countries,” the Pope said.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the number of chronically underfed people has increased by 100 million over the past year, and affects one in six people worldwide. The report defines chronic hunger as receiving fewer than 1,800 calories a day.

The sharp increase in hunger is attributed to the world recession and to food prices that soared in 2008 and remain 26-per-cent higher than 2006 despite the recession, particularly for staples such as rice and cereals. The report calls for the developed nations to contribute additional aid and to make agricultural investment in the underdeveloped nations where hunger is increasing at alarming rates.

“The silent hunger crisis, affecting one-sixth of all of humanity, poses a serious risk for world peace and security,” said the agency’s Director-General Jacques Diouf.

Using estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the report said world hunger has increased from 915 million to 1.02 billion people. Asia and the Pacific region account for 642 million of that total. But the highest per capita hunger rate is in sub-Saharan Africa, where 265 million people, 32 per cent of the population, are undernourished.

The problem should be addressed by governments establishing programs that improve access to food and by assisting small farmers with seeds, tools and fertilizers, said a UN spokesman. Long term, it is essential for governments to find ways to increase production in the developing world, he said.

(With files from CNS)

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