World Food Day Highlights Plight of Nearly 1 Billion Undernourished People

(October 2008) Oct. 16 is World Food Day, an occasion to highlight the plight of 923 million undernourished people in the world. Most of these people live in rural areas in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, their livelihoods dependent on agriculture and access to land. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that the deepening financial crisis, global warming, spiraling food prices, and even the boom in biofuels threaten to expand the populations at high risk of chronic undernourishment and premature death in coming decades.

Some 36 countries around the world need external food aid as a result of multiple factors: crop failures, political conflict or insecurity, inadequate food and nutrition policies, ineffective foreign aid, and soaring food and energy prices. Although the FAO forecasts a record cereal harvest for 2008—especially in the developed world—speculation, hoarding, and high transport costs thwart the equitable distribution of the food. And foreign aid, including aid for food and health care, may decline as donor countries confront their own economic problems in the coming years.

The FAO and other international organizations continue to publicize the world hunger problem and push for a two-pronged approach to solve it: short-term safety nets and longer-term food security and poverty reduction. They emphasize the importance of adequate nutrition during a child’s crucial first three years of life, lending a sense of urgency to fighting child malnutrition. Adults who suffered chronic malnutrition as children often have permanent health damage that makes it hard to earn enough to support a family. Child malnutrition perpetuates poverty, which reinforces the conditions causing malnutrition, creating a vicious cycle. Reducing hunger and extreme poverty by one-half is the first of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for 2015.

Mary Mederios Kent is senior demographic editor at the Population Reference Bureau.

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