The UN has warned that the global financial meltdown has pushed the ranks of the world’s hungry to a record 1 billion.
UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) officials reported at the weekend that, because of war, drought, political instability, high food prices and poverty, hunger now affects 1.02 billion – up 11 per cent from last year’s 915 million.
The financial meltdown has compounded the crisis in what FAO director-general Jacques Diouf called a ‘devastating combination for the world’s most vulnerable.’
Compared with last year, there are 100 million more people who are hungry, meaning they consume fewer than 1,800 calories a day, the agency said.
‘No part of the world is immune,’ Mr Diouf said, emphasising that ‘all world regions have been affected by the rise of food insecurity.’
The crisis is a humanitarian one but it is also a political issue.
Officials presenting the new estimates in Rome sought to stress the link between hunger and instability, noting that soaring prices for staples such as rice triggered riots in the developing world last year.
Josette Sheeran of the World Food Programme, another UN food agency, said hungry people had rioted in at least 30 countries last year. Most notably, soaring food prices led to deadly riots in Haiti and the overthrow of the prime minister.
‘A hungry world is a dangerous world,’ Ms Sheeran said. ‘Without food, people have only three options – they riot, they emigrate or they die. None of these are acceptable options.’
Even though prices have retreated from their mid-2008 highs, they are still ‘stubbornly high’ in some domestic markets, according to the FAO.
On average, food prices were 24 percent higher in real terms at the end of 2008 compared to 2006, it said.
‘Malnutrition kills through the fact that it weakens the immune system of a child,’ said Andrei Engstrand-Neacsu, a Kenya-based spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in East Africa. Some 22 million of the 1 billion hungry people counted by the United Nations are in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa, he said.