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Report: Number of People Living on Brink of Poverty Nearly Doubles in Two Years

According to an international aid agency, the number of people living on the edge of poverty has nearly doubled during the past two years. A new report by CARE International says the surging price of food is the main reason behind the alarming jump. For VOA, Tom Rivers in London has been speaking to the report's author.

Those said to be living on the edge of emergency - that is, people on the brink of not being able to feed themselves and thus requiring outside assistance - has nearly doubled to 220 million worldwide during the past two years.

CARE International report author Vanessa Rubin says the steep increase is truly alarming.

"Some of the communities I spoke with in our projects in Kenya for example, spend about 80 percent of their income in food," she said. "Now if the price of food goes up, three or four times as it has in some parts of Africa, you can imagine what impact that has on people's ability to feed themselves."

While rising food prices are seen as having the largest impact, Rubin says other factors are also putting millions more on the edge of poverty.

"There are also more ingrained issues like climate change that is really squeezing the natural resources - the land and the water - on which so many people's livelihoods depend, whether it is agriculture or whether it is animals," she said. "And also, we are seeing populations growing and so that is really squeezing people's livelihoods."

The CARE report underlines that the international community has failed to learn the lessons of countless emergencies going back decades.

"The point that we are making in the 'Living on the Edge' report is that it is also the responses to that vulnerability that have been inadequate," Rubin said. "There has been a real tendency to fire fight emergencies at the peak of a crisis, but not enough focus on the reasons why people are vulnerable to them in the first place."

Rubin says while funds must continue to be channeled to short-term emergencies, money also must go to long-term development commitments that strengthen the resolve of local populations.

Next week, a U.N. summit will be held to discuss the organization's so-called Millennium Development Goals. Rubin says the U.N. meeting simply cannot ignore the current poverty trend.

"The way we see it, the time is now that the world leaders are going to meet in New York next week," she said. "They do not have any choice but to address that."

The top priority of the Millennium Development Goals is to cut in half the number of people whose income is less that $1 a day by 2015.

Bridging the gap between the talk of getting there and actually arriving is to be a major point of discussion.