22 November 2005 With hunger and malnutrition killing nearly 6 million children each year, the developing world is far from reaching the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of slashing the number of hungry people in half by 2015, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its latest annual hunger report today.
“If each of the developing regions continues to reduce hunger at the current pace, only South America and the Caribbean will reach the Millennium Development Goal,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said in the foreword to the report - The State of Food Insecurity in the World.
To achieve agreed development goals and targets, the report calls for a twin-track approach consisting of national and international investments in strengthening productivity and incomes, including investment in small-scale irrigation, infrastructure such as roads and water, and promotion of fisheries and agro-forestry.
At the same time it advocates providing direct access to food through social safety nets for the poor, feeding programmes for mothers and infants, school meals and school gardens, food-for-work and food-for-education programmes.
Many of the children who die succumb to a handful of treatable infectious diseases including diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria and measles. They would survive if their bodies and immune systems had not been weakened by hunger and malnutrition.
The Asia-Pacific region has a good chance of reaching the MDG if it can accelerate progress slightly over the next few years, according to the report. In the Near East and North Africa, the prevalence of hunger is low, but it is increasing.
But in sub-Saharan Africa, the prevalence of under-nourishment, FAO’s measure of hunger, has been decreasing very slowly. The speed of progress was slightly better in the 1990s than it is today. The region will need to step up the pace dramatically to reach the MDG target.
The last statistics provided in 2004 (new estimates will be provided in next year’s edition) showed that 852 million people worldwide were undernourished during the 2000-2002 period, with some 75 per cent living in rural areas in poor countries.
These regions are home to the vast majority of nearly 11 million children who die before reaching the age of five, including 8 million infants; of 530,000 women who die during pregnancy and childbirth; of 300 million cases of acute malaria and more than 1 million malaria deaths each year; and of 121 million children who do not attend school.
Providing children with adequate food is crucial for breaking the poverty and hunger cycle and meeting the MDGs. Reducing the prevalence of child underweight by only five percentage points, on average, could save the lives of 30 per cent of children between one and five. This is based on a study of 59 developing countries. In some of the worst affected countries, the prevalence of underweight children under-five goes up to 45 per cent.
“Reducing hunger should become the driving force for progress and hope, as improved nutrition fuels better health, increases school attendance, reduces child and maternal mortality, empowers women, and lowers the incidence and mortality rates of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis,” Mr. Diouf wrote.
The report also notes that Inequalities between women and men prevent women from improving their families’ livelihoods. Research confirms that educated women have healthier families. Their children are better nourished, less likely to die in infancy and more likely to attend school.
Giving women better access to land and credit and promoting gender equality could do more to reduce hunger and malnutrition than any of the other MDGs, the report says.
FAO also stressed the role of healthier foods in reducing malnutrition and the need for nutrition education.
“To be food secure, families need sufficient resources to produce or purchase adequate food. However, this does not guarantee good nutrition and health as we can see from the diet-related health problems among even more affluent population groups,” FAO Nutrition Officer Peter Glasauer said, introducing the agency’s Family Nutrition Guide.
The Guide helps governments and non-governmental organizations to inform and motivate people to adopt healthy diets and lifestyles throughout their lives.