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World Losing Battle Against Hunger, says UN - 2003-11-25

The United Nations says there has been a setback in the fight against world hunger. The number of malnourished people has increased after a decline in the early 1990s.

The number of people going to bed hungry each night dropped in the first half of the 1990s by 37 million. With that trend as background, the 1996 World Food Summit set a goal of cutting the number of undernourished people in half by 2015 to around 400 million.

But U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Assistant Director-General Hartwig de Haen says the promising trend soon reversed.

"During the second half of the 1990s, the number of chronically hungry in the developing world increased by 18 million, which offset almost half of the progress made in the first half of the '90s," he said.

A new Food and Agriculture Organization report says 842 million people remain malnourished, mainly in developing countries, particularly Africa. Latin America and the Caribbean were the only regions where the number of hungry declined since the mid-1990s.

Mr. De Haen says the 2015 target of halving world hunger will now be much harder to meet.

The U.N. report points out that 41 countries have been successful in the fight against hunger since the mid-1990s, including China, Brazil, Haiti, Mozambique, Bangladesh, Tunisia, and Vietnam. The analysis shows that, compared to unsuccessful nations, they have had slower population growth, lower HIV rates, and stronger economic growth and trade. Mr. De Haen says a key to their growth has been agricultural investment.

"Most of the poor, two-thirds of the poor and hungry, live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood," he said. "Unless investment takes place in these rural areas, there cannot be lasting success in reducing hunger and poverty."

Africa, the hardest hit continent, suffers primarily because of drought. But conflict and AIDS also promote malnutrition. The report says hunger cannot be countered effectively where AIDS ravages. However, the Food and Agriculture Organization sees positive moves against malnutrition. African Union heads of state have made eradicating hunger a top priority and have pledged to boost farm spending to 10 percent of their budgets. Donor countries and institutions are also showing more concern, according to the organization's North American director, Charles Riemenschneider.

"Both the U.S. and Canada have in recent years started to reverse the trend in the decline in agricultural development spending in their development assistance," he said. "You see a renewed interest in the World Bank. The question is, can the investment be made soon enough and in the right areas to move forward?"

A World Food Summit last year called for an international alliance against hunger based on cooperation among national alliances made up of governmental, non-governmental, and business organizations. Mr. Riemenschneider says such a national alliance is developing within the United States.