Financial crisis hastening hunger for world’s poorest – UN food agency

Millions of people are being pushed closer to destitution by factors beyond their control in the Horn of Africa

11 June 2009 – The global financial crisis has hit the world’s poor and hungry – and their situation is set to get even worse, according to a new study by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

The publication, released today to coincide with the meeting in Rome of development ministers of the so-called Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations, calls on Governments to boost their safety nets for their poorest citizens.

It concentrates on five developing countries – Armenia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Nicaragua and Zambia – and seeks to illustrate the situation in other countries facing similar challenges.

“In each of the five countries, we were alarmed that projections were for more hunger and struggling in dozens of developing-world countries,” said WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran. “It demonstrates that for those living on less than $2 a day, the financial crisis is accelerating hunger and the worst is yet to come.”

Ms. Sheeran called on Governments “to boost social safety-net programmes at this critical moment, as the impact of the economic crisis on poor households begins to hit hard.”

WFP food security experts studying Armenia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Nicaragua, and Zambia, found “the majority of households are coping by reducing the number of meals eaten per day or serving up cheaper but less nutritious foods.”

“Communities are still reeling from food and fuel price rises which peaked in 2008,” Ms. Sheeran said, “and the present crisis threatens to undermine progress made in the fight against hunger.”

The studies found the groups most affected by the financial crisis were unskilled workers in urban areas, families who rely on remittances from abroad, workers laid off from the export sectors and those working in mining and tourism.

“The worst hit were not necessarily the poorest of the poor,” WFP said, “but a new group of people who face a downward slide into poverty.”

Last month the UN downgraded its economic forecast for 2009, from an already pessimistic estimate made five months previously, and said the poorest countries would be hit the hardest.

“The world economy is expected to shrink by 2.6 per cent in 2009, down from a decline by 0.5 per cent according to the pessimistic scenario of the forecast presented in January,” said a press release on the mid-year report “World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009,” by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

Although the crisis originated in developed countries, “it is now evident that developing countries are being hit disproportionately hard through capital reversals, rising borrowing costs, collapsing world trade and commodity prices, and subsiding remittance flows,” it said.

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