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Mexico Could be Model for Feeding Latin America, says UN Official - 2003-11-25

The executive director of the U.N. World Food Program says Mexico's successful efforts in tackling hunger problems must be rapidly applied to the rest of Latin America.

The hunger situation throughout most of Latin America is severe. The United Nations estimates 55 million people still go hungry. World Food Program Executive Director James Morris says Guatemala is a particularly harrowing example. He says children there are at critical risk of being severely stunted. In civil war-wracked Colombia, starvation results from the fact that a significant percentage of the population has become nomadic.

"Any time you have a situation where more than 25 percent of children under five are chronically malnourished, that is very concerning," said Mr. Morris. "It is very concerning if any child is malnourished. But Guatemala's numbers are approaching 45 to 46 percent. The issue in Colombia is there may be as many as two million internally displaced people in the country, people who have been driven from their homes for either a weather reason or a conflict reason or a health reason. And, you have that many people moving about in a country, without roots, without access to traditional family and farm support. It is a very serious problem. Only Angola and the Sudan have more internally displaced people than Colombia."

Mexico was the recipient of U.N. food aid until 1997. Since then, its economy has strengthened and its government has found ways to help as many as 25 percent of its neediest people.

Mr. Morris, who is on an official visit to Mexico, says more than four million Mexican families now receive food aid and health and education benefits. He says one of the most successful programs gives thousands of school children a breakfast.

He says Mexico can teach a lot to its Latin American neighbors. "I think the rest of Latin America has a lot to learn from the National Institute of Health here and the strength of the nutrition program," stressed Mr. Morris. "Mexico has found ways to fortify a lot of the food they provide, to increase the micro-nutrients, the nutritional value of what children eat, and the use of fortification is a place where there is a huge amount of leverage for a very small additional investment in the food that is already going to be offered. The quality and value of that food can be substantially increased."

Each day 25,000 people in the world die of hunger. Eighteen thousand of them are children.