|15 percent of households in rural Bangladesh suffer from chronic hunger, the World Food Program said (AFP Photo)|
The world has made "virtually no progress" in eradicating hunger over the past decade despite greater wealth, the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report released Monday.
The latest figures, from 2001-03, show that 854 million people were undernourished. Most, some 820 million, were in developing countries.
The World Food Summit, held in Rome in 1996, set the ambitious target of halving world hunger by 2015 relative to 1990-92.
"Ten years later, we are confronted with the sad reality that virtually no progress has been made towards that objective," said FAO chief Jacques Diouf in the report titled "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2006."
The drop from 823 million to 820 million undernourished people in developing countries is so tiny that it is "within the bounds of statistical error," he said in the UN agency's report.
"The most recent trends are a cause for concern," the report said, noting that 26 million more people were malnourished between 1995-97 and 2001-03, whereas the 1980s had seen a decrease of 100 million.
"The world is richer today than it was 10 years ago. There is more food available. ... What is lacking is sufficient political will to mobilize ... resources to the benefit of the hungry," Diouf said.
The FAO's projections for the future are more optimistic at 582 million undernourished in 2015, but the global figure hides several dire realities.
The total figure and the proportion of underfed people declined in Asia and the Pacific between 1990-92 and 2001-03, but the drop was mainly in China and Vietnam, where agriculture grew.
Also, "most countries in South America have advanced towards the target, but a significant increase in hunger was recorded in ... Venezuela. Setbacks have also been recorded for most Central Amercian countries, especially Guatemala and Panama."
In sub-Saharan Africa, wars, HIV-AIDS and natural disasters hampered measures taken to fight hunger, notably in Burundi, Eritrea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The FAO is especially concerned for the DRC, which was at war between 1998 and 2002 involving seven countries and where the number of undernourished people tripled between 1990-92 and 2001-03, from 12 million to 36 million, or some 72 percent of the population.
The FAO called for massive investments in agriculture and areas where hunger is concentrated.
"The agriculture sector tends to be the engine of growth for entire rural economies, and productivity-driven increases in output can expand food supplies and reduce food prices in local markets, raise farm incomes and boost the overall local economy by generating demand for locally produced goods and services," the report says.
The FAO lamented the "hunger-poverty trap," saying that hunger is not only a consequence of poverty but also one of its causes, because it "compromises the health and productivity of individuals and their efforts to escape poverty."