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Rallying political will and resources to
"get back on track"

The tragedy of hunger in the midst of plenty is still a stark reality in today's world. In virtually every country, there are groups of people who cannot realize their full human potential, either because their diets are inadequate or, because of sickness, their bodies are unable to benefit fully from the food they consume. In the poorest countries, the majority of people are affected by hunger, greatly magnifying the dimensions of other correctable defects in efforts to meet basic human needs.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World monitors the progress made each year towards fulfilment of the basic right of all human beings to live without fear of hunger or malnutrition. This third issue conveys a mixed message: progress has been made in reducing the absolute number of hungry people in the world, but this is not happening fast enough to achieve the 1996 World Food Summit target - that of halving the number of hungry people by 2015.

A report on progress towards this goal is especially important in 2001, in view of the follow-up event, the World Food Summit: five years later, called by FAO for November 2001 to encourage national leaders to review as a matter of urgency the rate of improvement in food security and to take corrective action where needed.

Over the past decade, the total number of chronically undernourished in the developing world has fallen by approximately 40 million but the average rate of decline has continued to slow, reaching only 6 million a year, compared with the 8 million reported in the 1999 issue of this publication. Consequently, the annual reduction required to reach the target by 2015 has grown from 20 to 22 million people per year. Hence the gap - between reductions realized and reductions needed - is widening. Continuing at the current rate, it would take more than 60 years to reach the target.

Figure 1a. Number of undernourished people in the developing countries: observed and projected levels relative to World Food Summit target

The World Food Summit: five years later will highlight two major issues. The first concerns the fact that the original goal can be met if countries and their development partners have the political will to do so. In other words, countries must eschew the "business as usual" approach and focus on the additional, urgent measures required to address widespread chronic undernourishment. The second issue concerns the availability and use of resources in achieving the Summit target. To start with, resources must be directed to identifying the undernourished more accurately, and subsequently to concrete action aimed at reducing hunger in the short term - crucial steps towards the long-term amelioration of poverty, which so often underlies hunger.

Accordingly, political will and resource mobilization underlie this year's report. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2001 presents numerous country-level "success stories" of what can be accomplished in reducing hunger and poverty when "best practices" in development are followed and when there is the political will to fight the root causes of undernourishment. The final six articles in this year's report illustrate the great variety of activities, often requiring limited additional financial resources, that can help address hunger and poverty. Once problems are understood at the community level, resources can be focused first on the direct relief and basic service interventions that ensure that people have the health and energy to participate in their own development. Next is the need to invest in improving the productivity and efficiency of the key natural resources sectors, especially those involved in the production of crops, livestock, fish and trees. In doing this, however, the top-down methods of the past must be renounced and, instead, local communities and individuals must be empowered to be their own agents of food security and livelihood development.

Figure 1b. The race against hunger: accelerating the pace

Complicating the tasks of fighting hunger and strengthening rural livelihoods is the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS, especially in the worst affected areas such as sub-Saharan Africa. This disease is creating large new vulnerable groups and is rapidly eroding food and livelihood security by removing adults in their prime from the production process. Recent experience in the fight against HIV/AIDS has shown that where the will to act is strong, resources can be effectively mobilized and channelled into practical solutions for people in need.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2001 conveys the vision shared by FAO and its partners: how the international community and national governments can work together to "get back on track", thereby honouring our commitments to meeting the World Food Summit target, then exceeding this intermediate goal and eradicating hunger altogether.

We see ending hunger as a first and vital step in eradicating the deep poverty that continues to afflict so many millions in our world. As long as there is widespread hunger in the world, other poverty alleviation strategies can achieve very little, since the foundation for broad-based development remains fundamentally flawed. This was recognized by the heads of government of the "G8 countries", who declared in their final communiqué in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001: "a central objective of our poverty reduction strategy remains access to adequate food supplies and rural development".

Jacques Diouf

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