World hunger: No reason for celebration yet, data masks real struggle – UN

World hunger: No reason for celebration yet, data masks real struggle – UN
While the number of hungry people across the globe has seen a sharp fall over the past decade, one in nine people throughout the world – 805 million – still do not have enough to eat, says a joint report by three UN food and agriculture agencies.

The number of chronically undernourished people dropped by more than 100 million – equivalent to a country the size of the Philippines – according to a report by the United Nations food agency (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP).

However, some success stories – such as in Brazil – mask real struggles in countries like Haiti, where large concentrations of undernourished people still remain, the report’s authors pointed out.

“We cannot celebrate yet because we must reach 805 million people without enough food for a healthy and productive life,” WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin said.

Twenty-five developing countries have already met the ambitious goal of halving the absolute number of chronically undernourished people between 1990 and 2015. But there is not enough time for the rest of the world to achieve the same rates by 2015, the report states.

Children carry relief food in Baie des Moustiques on the final day of food distribution by The World Food Programme (WFP) to families in the drought affected areas of northwest Haiti. (AFP Photo / Hector Retamal)

The continent with the highest rate of undernourishment is Africa, where one in five people have too little access to nutritious food. In the Central African Republic – where 38 percent of the population is undernourished – an ongoing civil war has led to widespread displacement. This has led to disruptions in food supply and distribution.

In Zambia (which is 48 percent undernourished), a leading culprit is infrastructure, according to the WFP. Less than 20 percent of the population has access to a durable road.

Asia, meanwhile, has the highest total number of undernourished people, led by India with 191 million. That number, however, has declined by more than 20 million since 1990, even while the country’s population has increased from 383 million to 1.25 billion.

Researchers from the FAO and the WFP note that parts of Africa and Asia are plagued by low income, poor agricultural development, and few social safety nets. In some countries, such as North Korea, the political climate limits trade and food aid.

An Iraqi Yazidi refugee family gathers under a tent at Newroz camp in Hasaka province, north eastern Syria after fleeing Islamic State militants in Iraq. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

The Ebola virus – which has killed more than 2,400 people this year, endangered harvests, and sent food prices soaring in West Africa – is rapidly creating a major food crisis there, Cousin said.

The FAO issued a food security alert this month for Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, which were all net cereal importers even before the Ebola outbreak prompted border closures and quarantine zones. The measures contributed to farm labor shortages.

Ongoing conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic are preventing humanitarian efforts from helping those affected, Cousin said, adding that the WFP and other agencies need an increase in donations.

Meanwhile, the advance of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) fighters in Iraq has caused concern over the availability of wheat there, which the FAO says is the most important food grain for humans.

“We are concerned about the fact that [IS] controls two of the major grain facilities in the country,” Cousin said. “These are very worrying trends, when you have a party that can control the food that is required by the poorest in the country.”

Women come back from the fields to sell vegetables at a market near the internally displacement camp close to the airport in Bangui (AFP Photo / Miguel Medina)

The highest rate of undernourishment in the world – 52 percent – belongs to Haiti. An earthquake in 2010, followed by several hurricanes in 2012 and a drought in 2014, have limited the government's capacity to get enough food to residents, according to the WFP.

The FAO raised its global cereals output forecast for 2014 earlier this month, partly due to unexpectedly high wheat crops in major producing countries. According to the organization, global food prices hit a near four-year low in August. But this is not necessarily good news for the world’s poor and hungry, in part because farmers earn less from their crops, FAO director general Jose Graziano Da Silva said.

Due to the complexities of collecting data, not every world country is represented in the FAO report. In some of the places most in need, development agencies often find it hard to get food in and data out as a result of civil unrest, natural disasters, or populations living in hard-to-reach rural areas. This includes Burundi, which topped the list in the FAO’s 2013 compilation.

AFP Photo / MSF / Nichole Sobecki

The UN agencies’ report shows that the problem of hunger is not something isolated to third world countries. In the US, millions of children go to sleep hungry every night, according to the data gathered.

According to Silva, the measurable progress does not necessarily mean that efforts to eliminate world undernourishment have become less challenging.

“Low prices do not ensure that the poorest will get more food,” said the FAO director general. “If there is not...access, low prices will not be enough.”