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Press Release 99/61

FAO Issues First Report on World Hunger

LONDON, 14 October -- Every night, almost 800 million people in the developing world go to sleep hungry, reports the first edition of The State of Food Insecurity in the World, issued today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). That is more than the combined population of Europe and North America - a 'hungry continent' of women, men and children who may never reach their physical and mental potential because they do not have enough to eat.

The number of undernourished people in the developing world has fallen by 40 million, from 830 million to 790 million between 1990/1992 and 1995/1997. This decline, however, represents the extraordinary achievement of just 37 countries, which realized reductions totalling 100 million. Across the rest of the developing world, the number of people who are chronically undernourished actually increased by almost 60 million.

Although the decrease of 40 million undernourished, or an average of 8 million a year, is encouraging, it is not enough, FAO says. At the 1996 World Food Summit, 186 countries committed themselves to halve the number of undernourished to 400 million in the developing world by 2015. To achieve the Summit goal, the rate of progress needs to be stepped up by 150 per cent to 20 million fewer hungry people each year.

For the first time, FAO presents statistics on the number of undernourished people also in the developed countries. Around 34 million people - 26 million in Eastern Europe and the former USSR and 8 million in the industrialized countries -- are estimated to be undernourished.

Asia and the Pacific account for almost two thirds (526 million) of the undernourished. India alone has more undernourished people (204 million) than all of sub-Saharan Africa combined (180 million).

Progress in combating hunger has been very uneven, says FAO. Five West African nations - Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Gambia and Nigeria - achieved the largest reductions in undernourishment worldwide. On the other hand, the proportion of undernourished increased significantly in Afghanistan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Burundi, Madagascar and Mongolia.

Around 200 million children in the developing world are severely stunted. In South Asia, half the children under five are underweight compared with 33 percent in Africa and 21 percent in East and Southeast Asia. Children suffer particularly in poor countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Niger, United Republic of Tanzania and Yemen.

The report provides the first statistics on progress and reversals during the 1990s and highlights countries that have achieved the greatest gains or suffered the most severe setbacks over the past two decades.

  • In Asia, a period of rapid economic growth resulted in major gains in food security. Cambodia led the way with a drop from 62 to 33 percent in the proportion of undernourished people. Up to 1997, undernourishment had increased in only two Asian countries, Mongolia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Since then, economic setbacks have resulted in increasing poverty and undernourishment for several Southeast Asian nations, particularly Indonesia.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean present a mixed picture of progress and setback, with hunger declining in South America but increasing in several countries of Central America. Honduras, which has implemented effective economic reforms accompanied by strong social safety net programmes, had the strongest gains, bringing undernourishment down from 31 to 21 percent of the population. Cuba, since losing its special trading relationship with the former USSR, has seen daily food intake drop by more than 500 calories per person, mainly because of declining food imports.
  • Most countries in the Near East and North Africa have already achieved very low levels of hunger. The region accounts for 10 of the 14 developing countries where undernourishment affects less than 5 percent of the population. Morocco represented the best progress, while the situation has worsened significantly in Afghanistan (from 33 percent to 62 percent) and Iraq (from 4 percent to 15 percent).
  • Several West African nations registered substantial improvements that were among the best worldwide, but elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, problems have grown worse. Thanks to a strong economy and dramatic increases in yields of staple food crops, Ghana led the way in reducing hunger. In Central, East and southern Africa, the proportion and numbers of undernourished generally increased. The largest increase was in Burundi which, like many of its neighbours, is struggling with rapid population increases, land degradation, declining agricultural productivity and civil conflict.

Much of the data used in the report was compiled through the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (FIVIMS), a new programme for the improvement and linking of existing national and global information systems that gather and analyse data - ranging from health and climate to markets and household food security.

The main purpose of the report is to focus the attention of the world's leaders and opinion-makers on the problem of undernourishment around the world and to spur development of innovative approaches to tackle it.


The report will be accessible directly from the FAO home page -

For further information please contact: May Bredt, Tel: (44-171) 630 19 81 or 07771 850 225; Anne De Lannoy, tel: 0348-2341145; John Riddle, Tel: (39-06) 570 53259

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