Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hunger costs millions of lives and billions of dollars - FAO hunger report

08 Dec 2004 -- Chronic hunger plagues 852 million people worldwide
Rome/Johannesburg/New York/Santiago/Stockholm/Tokyo - Hunger and malnutrition cause tremendous human suffering, kill more than five million children every year, and cost developing countries billions of dollars in lost productivity and national income, according to FAO's annual hunger report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004 (SOFI 2004).

"More than 20 million low birth-weight babies are born in the developing world every year," the report says. These babies faced increased risk of dying in infancy, while those who survive often suffer lifelong physical and cognitive disabilities.

FAO said it was regrettable that so little is done to fight hunger, although the resources needed to effectively prevent this human and economic tragedy are minuscule when compared to the benefits.

The report says that without the direct costs of dealing with the damage caused by hunger, more funds would be available to combat other social problems. "A very rough estimate suggests that these direct costs add up to around $30 billion per year - over five times the amount committed so far to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria."

In addition, there are the indirect costs of lost productivity and income. For example, the report says that tolerating the current levels of child malnutrition will result in productivity and income losses over their lifetimes of between $500 billion to $1 trillion at present value.

Ironically, says the report, the resources needed to deal with the problem of hunger are small in comparison to the potential benefits. Every dollar invested in reducing hunger can yield from five, to over 20 times as much in benefits.

Progress is possible

With the number of hungry people in the world rising to 852 million in the 2000-2002 period, up by 18 million from the mid-1990s, the human and economic costs of hunger will only increase if the trend is not reversed. The total includes 815 million hungry people in the developing countries, 28 million in the countries in transition and 9 million in the industrialized countries.

But although efforts to reduce chronic hunger in developing countries are not currently on track to meet the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of cutting by half the number of hungry people in the world by 2015, SOFI 2004 says that the goal can still be attained.

"More than 30 countries, representing nearly half the population of the developing world, provide proof that rapid progress is possible as well as lessons in how that progress can be achieved," the report says. These countries have reduced the percentage of hungry people by at least 25 percent during the 1990s.

Hartwig de Haen, FAO's Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Department, said: "It is possible that the international community has not fully grasped the economic bounce they would get from investments in hunger reduction. Enough is known about how to end hunger and now is the time to capture the momentum toward that goal. It is a matter of political will and prioritization."

RAP 04/39

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