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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Plus de 800 millions de personnes souffrent de la faim

by Damien Roustel

Over 800 million people suffering from hunger

Translated Sunday 12 October 2014, by Katie Gibson

According to a recent joint report by the UN agencies FAO, IFAD and WFP, chronic undernourishment is receding, but not everywhere. This scourge still affects one in nine human beings. The objective to halve the number of undernourished people globally by 2015, in relation to 1990, is within reach.

The fight against world hunger is continuing to make significant progress, but remains a huge challenge. In effect, that’s the summary of the latest report by the three UN agencies on the state of food insecurity in the world, published on 16th September. According to the document, collectively produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), 805 million people in the world suffer from hunger. That’s 100 million fewer than ten years ago and more than 200 million fewer than twenty years ago. At the beginning of the 1990s, 1,015 billion people were chronically undernourished.

They made up almost 18.7% of the global population. Today, 800 million hungry make up 11.3% of the planet’s inhabitants, that is, one human being in nine. From 1990 to today, this represents an almost 40% reduction in the proportion of victims of hunger, in relation to the total population. The first millennium development goal (MDG), adopted by the UN in 2000, which aims to halve the proportion of undernourished by 2015 is thus, according to the agencies, "within reach". "This is proof that we can win the war against hunger and should inspire countries to move forward" wrote the directors of FAO, IFAD and WFP in the report’s foreword. But the objective of the World Food Summit (WFS) to halve the number, and not the proportion, of those who go hungry, will not be achieved.

In order to reduce the number of undernourished from a billion in 1990 to 500 million today, a further reduction of 300 million people is necessary between now and the end of the year. Even if the issue is trivialised and garners far less interest than in the past, hunger remains a terrible scourge. "Hunger still kills, relentlessly, thousands of people every day, starting with children".

In 2011, 6.9 million children died below the age of five years old. "There are of course multiple reasons, but it is estimated that 3.1 million of these are victims of undernourishment – one every second – and certainly almost 1.3 million are directly caused by severe malnutrition, generally a result of a lack of maternal breastfeeding", states the expert Bruno Parmentier, in Hunger Zero. (1) Analysis of the UN report shows that two thirds of people suffering from chronic undernourishment are in Asia (526 million). But it’s also the continent which has made the greatest contribution to reducing this number. China alone has reduced the number of hungry by 138 million, far ahead of India which has made little progress with a reduction of 20 million, the same reduction as Vietnam.

Countries such as Burma or Thailand have greatly diminished the proportion of hunger victims in their population. From 30% hungry in 1990 to 10.8% in 2014, South-East Asia has easily met the MDG. South America and the Caribbean is the other region taken as an example. Hunger has been reduced by almost two-thirds in the region. Thanks to public policies for the poorest such as the "Zero Hunger" programme in Brazil, more than 30 million South Americans have been saved from hunger in two decades. But progress is relative in other regions. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of undernourished has passed from 33% to 23%, but this represents an increase of 30 million people in twenty years. Hunger has increased in countries such as Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Swaziland (+ 60%), Tanzania and Zambia (+ 40%). Other countries are experiencing alarming situations. This is the case in North Korea and Iraq (+ 200%). Figures as high as these discourage WFP from any excess of optimism. According to Ertharin Cousin, the director of WFP, "In order to reach ’Zero Hunger’, the biggest challenge is to contend with conflicts which become food crises, as is the case in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic."

(1) Zero Hunger, ending hunger in the world. La Découverte, 240 pages, 19 Euros.

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