The new State of Food Insecurity 2002 says
that progress in reducing world hunger has virtually come to a
halt. Hartwig de Haen, Assistant Director-General, Economic and
Social Department, comments on the new figures on hunger and
Why do figures matter?
The figures matter very much because they tell us how
severe the problem of hunger is and where the hungry people
live. They also remind us how far we are still away from the
commitment of the international community made at the World Food
Summit in 1996, to reduce hunger by half by 2015. SOFI's
data and analysis helps to increase global attention to problems
of food insecurity and to better direct action aimed at reducing
hunger and poverty.
A year ago
FAO estimated the number of hungry at 777 million people in
developing countries. Now it says there are 799 million hungry
people in the developing countries. Does this mean that the
number of hungry has increased?
The two publications cannot be so easily compared.
The new estimates not only add more recent data, but also
correct past data. Member countries continue to revise past
data on production and trade, as well as population. Therefore,
FAO often has to revise earlier estimates of food availability
and the number of undernourished.
present case, applying the new data base to the 1997-99 period
results in a revised estimate for 1997-99 of 784 million
undernourished. Hence, comparing the two three-year-periods
using the most recent data base indicates there has indeed been
an increase by 15 million between the two periods. The increase
in the number of undernourished is mainly related to the
increase in total population. Furthermore, most of the 15
million increase is concentrated in a few countries with large
FAO says that 25
000 people are dying of hunger and poverty every day. How do you
count the number of hunger victims?
The data is from the World Health Report 2000 (WHO).
The main causes leading to the estimates include diseases and
lack of safe drinking water and sanitation. The estimate is a
relatively conservative estimate, amounting to a little over 9
million deaths per year, of whom 6 million are children under
the age of five who die prematurely, as a direct or indirect
result of hunger.
More than 2
billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient malnutrition,
also called the "hidden hunger". What should
countries do to improve the living conditions of these
The term "hidden
hunger" denotes deficiencies of vitamins and minerals.
The poor health and loss of human potential that arise from
micronutrient deficiencies are enormous, but these effects have
often been over-shadowed by the more graphic evidence of
protein-energy malnutrition, chronic hunger and starvation.
Micronutrient deficiencies can have wide-ranging effects. For
example, micronutrient deficient children fail to grow and
develop normally; cognition is impaired, often severely and
irreversibly; immune systems are compromised; in both adults and
children mental and physical capacities are limited; and
blindness and death can result.
to overcoming micronutrient deficiencies is to focus on helping
the poor improve the diversity and overall adequacy of their
diets. A sustainable, food-based approach needs to be adopted
that has multiple nutritional benefits. Such an approach moves
away from focusing on a single micronutrient and recognizes
that, in general, diets are deficient in one micronutrient are
also likely to be deficient in other nutrients as well,
including macronutrients that is protein, carbohydrates and
fats. The basic need is to improve total dietary intakes.
Efforts to deal with micronutrients should not isolated from
efforts to address other problems of malnutrition. Providing
supplements and even adding nutrients to food are short term
measures, but are no substitutes for more comprehensive
What is the impact of
armed conflicts on food security?
The overall impact is the disruption of food
production and normal economic activities by displacing rural
populations within a country and across borders. At the
household level, thedisplaced are no longer able to produce for
themselves and their families and therefore become totally
dependent on food assistance or become malnourished and
eventually die of starvation or diseases related to
At the national level, scarce
resources in a poor country are diverted to the conflict
(armaments, expanded armies, etc), leaving the country unable to
import food to meet requirements. The country therefore also
becomes dependent on food aid.
conflicts displace people from their homes or trap them in
combat zones and make them dependent on temporary food
assistance. In 2001, the number of displaced people was
estimated at 37 million (12 million refugees and 25 million
internally displaced people).
situations, food sources and supplies may be intentionally
disrupted as a means of starving out civilians from the opposing
groups. In 1999 such disruptions left close to 24 million people
hungry and in need of humanitarian assistance.
Armed conflict may prevent farmers from producing food
and disrupt transport, trade and markets, thereby reducing
access to food. FAO has found that conflict-induced losses of
agricultural output in sub-Saharan Africa between 1970 and 1997
were equivalent to 75% of all aid received by conflict-affected