800 million go hungry in global boom-time

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The Independent Online

NEARLY 800 MILLION people around the world are suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition, according to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on world hunger - including 26 million in Eastern Europe and 8 million in wealthy industrial nations.

NEARLY 800 MILLION people around the world are suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition, according to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on world hunger - including 26 million in Eastern Europe and 8 million in wealthy industrial nations.

The estimate of 790 million malnourished people shows a reduction of 40 million since the 1996 World Food Summit, helped along by World economic boom times. But the FAO warns that progress is patchy and "has not been fast enough to reach the goal of only 400 million by 2015 set by the summit".

On current trends, 638 million people will still be going hungry by that date. "Unless something extraordinary happens, we will fall far short of that target," said Hartwig de Haen, assistant director-general of the FAO's economic and social department. But he insisted that the target was still "realistic" and "feasible" because "the world has enough resources to feed all".

Mr De Haen added a note of caution: the reduction in the number of undernourished people was due to the success of just 37 developing countries in combatting hunger. Elsewhere, the number of malnourished people increased by almost 60 million.

Positive examples in the FAO report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World, included Honduras in Central America, where maize production has doubled, a programme to help the poor has been put into place and economic growth has been strong.

Chad, in Central Africa, had also performed well, along with many west African countries. Hunger had also been contained in countries of the Near East and North Africa. But central, eastern and southern African countries continue to record high levels of hunger.

The situation worsened in Asian nations along the Pacific Ocean, where 526 million people are undernourished. India alone has 204 malnourished people, followed by China with 164 million.

Also afflicted are Cuba, which has lost the Soviet Union as its most important trading partner and food supplier, and Iraq, where numbers of malnourished people increased from 4 to 15 per cent under the regime of international sanctions and economic stagnation.

Internal warfare has been a problem in Afghanistan. But in Cambodia, "as the country rebounds from decades of conflict", things are improving.

But the most worrying trend is the increasing number of malnourished children. Four out of 10 children in the developing world are stunted, with low height for age, and one in three are underweight.

The problem of malnourished children is at its worst in south Asia, where half of children under five are underweight: this one region accounts for half the world's underweight and stunted children. In Africa as a whole, a third of children were underweight, with a fifth in east and south-east Asia.

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