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16. The lack of action in the fight against hunger may have arisen, in part, from a widely held perception that success in poverty reduction, resulting from market-driven economic development, would "automatically " take care of the problem of hunger. However, this thinking does not take into account three points: first, poverty reduction takes time, while the hungry need immediate relief; second, in contrast to many diseases for which cures are either unknown or unaffordable, the means to feed everyone are readily and cheaply available; and third, hunger is as much a cause as an effect of poverty. Unless hunger is reduced, progress in cutting poverty is bound to be slow. A direct attack on hunger will greatly improve the chances of meeting the other Millennium Development Goals, not only for poverty reduction, but also those related to education, child mortality, maternal health and disease.

17. Hungry children cannot grow and learn to their full potential. Hungry adults cannot perform hard physical labour; they fall sick more often and are more likely to die young. They are also unwilling to undertake potentially profitable but riskier investments for fear of the consequences of failure. Even worse, hunger perpetuates itself when undernourished mothers give birth to smaller babies who start life with a handicap. A vicious cycle of hunger and poverty is thus created, from which it is difficult for the poor and the hungry to escape without external help.

18. However, if the cycle were broken, the benefits would be enormous. A rough measure of these benefits is given by the value of the longer and healthier lifespan that would be enjoyed by those who were no longer undernourished, as well as by the general population because it would be better nourished. Preliminary estimates suggest that, if the WFS goal of 408 million undernourished people by 2015 is achieved, instead of the 610 million that will result if "business as usual"[1] continues, the value of the extra years of healthy life should be more than US$120 billion per year. This is a conservative estimate of the full economic benefits of meeting the goal. In other words, agricultural and rural development in support of hunger reduction has important overall beneficial effects on the economy by creating demand for goods and services, both domestically produced and imported. Similar calculations in the report of the World Health Organization (WHO) Commission on Macroeconomics and Health suggest gains from improved nutrition and health of hundreds of billions of dollars per year if the goal can be met. Thus, fighting hunger is not only a moral imperative, it also brings large economic benefits.

19. Success in reducing hunger is also likely to produce large benefits in terms of sustainable development. The economic prosperity resulting from hunger reduction should create demand for sustainable use of the environment and of common property resources. This point takes on added resonance in the context of the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg.

20. Finally, while few would dispute that hunger reduction benefits poor countries, the rich countries also stand to gain, as their own welfare is closely linked to that of the less fortunate countries. Better nourishment in the poor countries is likely to increase their incomes, thereby creating a new source of demand for the products of the developed countries. Better nourishment may also reduce the likelihood of conflict. Lifting people out of hunger, the most extreme form of poverty and deprivation, makes it less likely that they will be easy prey for those who seek to promote their own self-interest through conflict and civil strife. Apart from contributing to global stability, hunger reduction may also reduce the world’s expenditure on conflict prevention and rehabilitation of war-torn areas.

21. Therefore, halving hunger is not only a valid goal in itself, but is also closely linked to the achievement of other key goals set by the international community, most of which are reflected in the Millennium Declaration.

[1] The term "business as usual" refers to the best estimates available to FAO of the likely evolution in food availability, agricultural output, population, incomes and a host of other variables related to nutrition under the baseline scenario of FAO’s perspective study World agriculture: towards 2015/2030. This assumes, inter alia, that no extra effort is made to meet the World Food Summit (1996) target.

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