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UN Expert Says Hunger Growing Worldwide

A U.N. expert says more than 850 million people around the world are starving. The expert, who has submitted a report on the state of world hunger to the U.N. Human Rights Council, says the international community has failed to honor its pledges to eradicate hunger. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva where the Council is in session.

The U.N. special investigator on the right to food, Jean Ziegler says hunger in the world is progressing on a catastrophic scale. He says the number of people suffering from hunger has been rising every year since 1996 and reached 854 million in 2006.

He tells VOA it is unacceptable and shameful that people are getting sick and dying from hunger in a world that has more than enough resources to feed everyone on earth.

"Every five seconds last year, a child below 10 died from hungerm," he said. "Every four minutes, somebody loses the eyesight by lack of vitamin A. And, this happens on a planet where without any problem 12 billion people, which means the double of humanity, could be nourished normally. This means 2,700 calories adult person per day."

The United Nations reports that Asia has the largest number of hungry people. But, in proportion to population, the U.N. finds hunger is growing most rapidly in Africa.

In his report, Ziegler expresses particular concern about food crises affecting the Darfur region of the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Horn of Africa and North Korea.

He also focuses on the silent tragedy of children suffering and dying from hunger and malnutrition. He notes children who do not have enough to eat in their first five years suffer from physical stunting and limited intellectual development. He says thousands of children, many in Africa, are driven to enlist in armed groups because of hunger.

Ziegler says hunger forces tens of thousands of people to flee their own countries, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa. He says people from countries such as Chad, Congo, Cameroon and Mauritania risk their lives to reach European shores.

He says many people have drowned while crossing the Mediterranean, the Adriatic or the Atlantic. And, many of those who survive, he says, are treated as criminals and sent home as illegal immigrants.

"This tragedy will not go away because the destruction of soil, hunger in Africa is growing from year to year to year, which means that more and more desperate people will try to reach the coast of Africa and then to cross over," he said. "So, something has to be done. The military response is totally inadequate."

Ziegler says refugees from hunger should not be confused with so-called economic refugees who migrate to other countries in search of a better life. He says refugees from hunger do not move voluntarily, but out of necessity.

He is calling on the U.N. Human Rights Council to create a new international law that would grant temporary asylum to refugees from hunger.