Even as the number of hungry people has been rising, mainly, in Africa by about 6 million a year, food aid is in sharp decline, the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) James T. Morris said today.
"Globally hunger claims more lives than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined," Mr. Morris told a special event on the food crisis in Africa organized by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Speaking at the same event General Assembly President Jan Eliasson called it "shameful that we are still not good enough in providing emergency assistance when it is needed."
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) there are now 852 million hungry people worldwide and the number has been increasing by 6 million annually since 2000. Over five million children die of hunger and malnutrition every year.
"WFP is struggling to feed 43 million hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa – double the number from 1995," Mr. Morris said.
Yet when 170 Heads of State gathered at the UN for the Summit in September only 18 mentioned hunger as a serious challenge, he pointed out. "Cutting hunger in half is the one Millennium Development Goal where we are actually losing ground," he noted.
Hunger is linked to many catastrophes in today's world. For example the impact of AIDS on food production is enormous, Mr. Morris said. The disease has claimed the lives of nearly 8 million African farmers. Much of a generation has gone missing, and there is no one to teach the next generation to farm, he pointed out.
Hunger also plays a role in conflicts. Over the last decade it has been used as a weapon in war for example in Darfur, southern Sudan and Somalia, he noted. According to a UN review, armed conflict also reduces agricultural output on average by 20 per cent.
Chronic hunger in the countryside is also destabilizing Africa since it spurs the continuing migration of rural people into cities, where basic social services act as a lure. In countries like Uganda and Kenya over 80 percent of the poorest people are rural. "Yet African governments and international donors have neglected investment in agriculture," he pointed out.
Especially difficult the situation is in Southern Africa where a lethal mix of AIDS, recurring drought and weakened capacity for governance is eroding social and political stability, he said. "The greatest humanitarian crisis today is not in Pakistan, the tsunami region, or Darfur - though they are all severe – it is the gradual disintegration of social structures in southern Africa," he said. "Hunger is playing is a critical part."