Global recession halts decades of steady progress in reducing world hunger

  • @mjpmccarthy

Two decades of steady progress in reducing world hunger have come to a stop with the recession of the last four years, new figures from the United Nations reveal.

The number of people without enough to eat fell from one billion in 1990-92 to 867 million in 2007-2009, the figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) show, but then went back up to 868m in the period 2010-2012, while in Africa, the worsening trend is even more pronounced.

The development “should sound alarm bells around the globe,” Oxfam said today.

In its report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012, FAO says it is presenting a new and more accurate picture of global hunger over the last two decades after completely revising its statistical methods.

In 2009, the organisation made international headlines when it announced, after the food price spike of 2008 and the onset of the recession, that a billion people were chronically undernourished; the then-Director General of FAO, Jacques Diouf, went on a day-long hunger strike to show solidarity with the one billion.

FAO now accepts, after the statistical revision, that this number was inaccurate and the total was not as high. But what the new figures do show, in going back to 1990, is a period of steady progress in reducing world hunger which has currently come to an end.

The billion undernourished of 1990, who represented 19 per cent of the world population, dropped to 919m by 2001 (15 per cent of global population), 898m by 2006(14 per cent) and 867m by 2009 (13 per cent). (The 2012 figure of 868m, showing that numbers of the hungry are flat-lining, still represents a drop to 12 per cent of global population as world numbers are steadily increasing.)

The vast majority of the hungry, 852 million, live in developing countries – about 15 per cent of their population – while 16 million people are undernourished in developed countries.

“The flat-lining in the number of people being lifted out of hunger in the last five years should sound alarm bells around the globe,” said Oxfam’s Luca Chinotti,

“The fact that almost 870 million people – more than the population of the US, Europe and Canada – are hungry in a world which produces enough for everyone to eat is the biggest scandal of our time.

“Political inaction means that high and volatile food prices, lack of investment in agriculture, gender inequality, land grabs and climate change are in danger of reversing past gains in the fight against hunger.  We need a new approach to the way we grow, share and manage food and other natural resources.”

The new head of FAO, José Graziano da Silva said today: “We note with particular concern that the recovery of the world economy from the recent global financial crisis remains fragile. We nonetheless appeal to the international community to make extra efforts to assist the poorest in realizing their basic human right to adequate food.

“The world has the knowledge and the means to eliminate all forms of food insecurity and malnutrition.”