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Nearly a billion hungry, food prices high

High food prices helped push another 40 million people into hunger this year, the U. N.’s food agency said Dec. 9, raising the number of undernourished people in the world to 963 million.

A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that said fewer and fewer people can afford decent meals, especially in Asia and Africa, despite a fall in food prices, gave a hollow ring to pledges to cut world poverty.

“High food prices have had a devastating effect on the most vulnerable and insecure part of the world’s population,” Kostas Stamoulis, head of FAO’s agricultural and development economics division, told a news conference presenting the report.

Unreplenished food stocks, price volatility and the global financial crisis continue to hurt food security, while food prices on domestic markets remain at record high levels, he said.

The cost of food staples began rocketing in 2006 because of a spike in commodity prices, and reached a peak in June 2008.

While the global economic downturn has pushed prices of food items down since then, the FAO’s food price index was still 28 per cent higher in October than two years earlier.

But even before the food price surge and this year’s financial turmoil, the number of hungry people kept rising steadily, despite a U. N. Millennium Development Goal to halve the proportion of the world’s undernourished people by 2015.

Some 923 million people were suffering from hunger in 2007, up from 848 million in 2003-05 and 842 million in 1990-1992.

FAO preliminary estimates are that 14 per cent of the world’s population was undernourished this year, up from 12.9 per cent in 2003-05 and only slightly lower than 15.8 per cent in 1990-92.

Empty promises

The head of FAO, Jacques Diouf, has been sounding alarm bells for years about the lack of progress in the fight against hunger.

“In 2006, I said that at this rate we would achieve the Millennium Goal not by 2015, but by 2150,” he said Dec. 9.

The vast majority – 907 million people – of the world’s hungry live in developing nations. Of these, 65 per cent live in just seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

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