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Hunger Costs Poor Nations $450 Billion Annually

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Joe DeCapua

A new report says hunger could cost poor nations US$450 billion a year.  The ActionAid report – Who’s Really Fighting Hunger? – gives a scorecard of how nations are faring in trying to reach the first Millennium Development Goal – cutting chronic hunger in half by 2015.

ActionAid says 20 of 28 poor nations are at risk of not reaching that goal by the target date.  The report coincides with the latest U.N. figures, which say there are 925 million chronically hungry people worldwide.  That’s down from around one billion people last year.  But U.N. agencies say despite the improvement, food security remains fragile and more investment in agriculture is needed.

Alex Wijeratna of ActionAid’s Hunger Campaign reacts to the figures: “Obviously, we totally want hunger to come down in the world, but again, 925 million sounds and is an awful, awful lot of hungry people in the world.  Of course it’s great that it’s come down from a billion, but we need much bigger and quicker progress.”

The new report says hunger costs poor nations hundreds of billions of dollars annually, adding it’s “more than 10 times the amount needed to halve hunger by 2015.”

The cost of poverty

“We’ve extrapolated from U.N. estimates of the opportunity costs – the costs of young people and children going hungry.  What are the lifetime costs of that in terms of lost productivity, lost lifetime earnings, extra costs from repeating grades at school because you’re hungry, the health associated costs…and this is the number we’ve come up with,” says Wijeratna.

He calls the $450 billion dollar figure a conservative estimate.

“It would be cheaper to tackle hunger than to let it get as bad as it has,” he says.

The good, the bad, the hungry

The Who’s Really Fighting Hunger? report scorecard says Brazil, China, Ghana, Malawi and Vietnam all get top grades for tackling hunger.

“The reason is,” Wijeratna says, “they have made tackling hunger a big political priority.  It’s about political will.  Brazil, in particular, has a big campaign headed by the president of Brazil…and he made fighting hunger a priority.”

Brazil invested heavily in smallholder farms, improved social protection programs for the poor and hungry and provided cheap credit to farmers.  “The results have been dramatic,” says Wijeratna.

The worst grades go to the DRC, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Pakistan.

“I think there are specific issues for those specific countries.  Obviously, the Congo is in a conflict situation.  That means…about 76 percent of the population there are suffering from hunger.  That is very specific to that environment,” he says.

Pakistan is reeling from massive flooding.  “That is really going to impact on food security there.  And it’s very, very low.  Our report says one in two in Pakistan now are going hungry,” he says.

The United Nations will hold a summit next week on the Millennium Development Goals.  ActionAid is calling on nations to increase investment in agriculture and smallholder farming both at the national and international levels.

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