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13. It is a moral outrage that 840 million people go hungry in a world of plenty. In this spirit, the international community has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to fighting hunger. In particular, at the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) in Rome, representatives of 185 nations and the European Community set a goal of cutting the number of hungry people by half by 2015. The United Nations Millennium Declaration reiterated a number of goals set by conferences and summits in the 1990s, including that of halving hunger. The UN General Assembly, at its fifty-sixth session in 2001, subsequently consolidated eight of these goals into the Millennium Development Goals, beginning with a call for halving the proportion of people in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

14. There is also a growing international consensus concerning the need to implement the right to food. Although this right was first explicitly stated in the 1940s in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the FAO Constitution (the preamble which gives "ensuring humanity's freedom from hunger" as one of the principal reasons for the creation of the Organization), there has been little tangible progress towards its implementation. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has facilitated the task of implementation of this fundamental right by adopting, in 1999, the General Comment on the Right to Food, which specifies how states can meet their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right.

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

The graph compares the changes in the number of undernourished people under two different scenarios: i) the lower line shows the changes in the number of undernourished under the assumption that the WFS target will be met; ii) the upper line shows the changes in the number of undernourished under the best estimates available to FAO of the likely evolution in food availability, agricultural output, population, incomes and many variables related to nutrition. This latter scenario assumes that no extra effort (relative to the past) is made to reduce hunger in the world. It is worth noting that, as time goes by and no purposeful action is taken to reduce hunger, the required reduction in the number of hungry in order to meet the WFS target increases, as does the required effort. It should be noted that while the figure of 840 million in paragraph 13 is for all countries, the graph refers to the number of undernourished people in developing countries only.

15. Unfortunately, in spite of these commitments, too little purposeful action has been taken towards eradicating hunger. The number of hungry people in the world is not falling fast enough to meet the ambitious but pragmatic goal of the 1996 WFS Plan of Action. The Plan calls for a reduction in the number of undernourished people from 816 million in 1990-92 (the base period) to 408 million by 2015. The latest figures from FAO show that to meet the target, the number of hungry will have to fall by 26 million every year, compared with the average of 6 million a year attained over the last years of the 1990s. Even this slow movement appears to have ground to a halt in the late 1990s, greatly increasing the difficulty of attaining the goal by 2015. The fact that this limited progress was concentrated in a handful of large countries is also a cause for concern. Most developing countries have recorded either an increase or no significant change in the number of undernourished people in their midst.

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