Press Release 99/61
NUMBER OF HUNGRY IN DEVELOPING WORLD DOWN BY 40 MILLION IN FIVE YEARS BUT
INCREASING IN MANY POOR COUNTRIES
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
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
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)