More Filipinos are getting hungry, says FAO official

- Jose Katigbak -
STAR Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – The good news is that the proportion of hungry people to population in the Philippines has declined. The bad news is that the number of hungry Filipinos has increased.

So said Charles Riemenschnieder, Food and Agriculture Organization director for North Africa at a news conference Tuesday to launch FAO’s annual hunger report: "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2002."

The effort to reduce the number of hungry people by half by 2015, a goal set by the World Food Summit in 1996, has virtually ground to a halt, the FAO report also said. At this rate, it will take over a century to reduce world hunger by half, the report added.

"The proportion of the population that is hungry has gradually come down, but the number of hungry has not and that is because of population growth," Riemenschnieder said. FAO estimated the population of the Philippines at 74.2 million in the period of 1998-2000, up from 62.5 million in the 1990-1992 period.

Among the 10 member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), only Cambodia is worse off than the Philippines, with some "35 percent or more" of its population being undernourished.

In Philippines "20-34 percent" of the population is undernourished, a bracket shared by Laos. Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam are in the "five to 19 percent" bracket. Malaysia is in the "less than 2.5 percent" bracket and Singapore and Brunei, the ASEAN’s richest members, are not included in the statistics.

Based on FAO’s latest estimates, 840 million people worldwide are undernourished, most of them in developing countries. The figure represents a decrease of barely 2.5 million per year over the eight years since the 1990-1992 period. Additionally, about 25,000 people die daily from hunger and poverty.

The marginal reduction worldwide in the number of hungry people is due to rapid progress in a few countries, including China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, Riemenschnieder said.

"The rest of the developing world, unfortunately, has seen an increase in the number of hungry people by about 50 million since the World Food Summit benchmark year," Riemenschnieder said.

The World Bank estimates the number of poor people struggling to survive on less than $1 (P53) daily at 1.2 billion.

The FAO report said hunger kills millions of people each year, including six million children under the age of five.

Death due to hunger persists despite the fact that the world produces more than enough to provide an adequate diet for everyone, the FAO said.

To reach the World Food Summit goal, a public investment of $24 billion a year is needed to jump-start an accelerated campaign against hunger through agricultural and rural development and wider access to food, FAO experts said.

This would require a 20-percent increase in developing countries’ budgets for agricultural and rural development. For developed countries and international financing institutions, it would represent a doubling of concessional funding to agricultural and rural development.

Taken in perspective, the $24-billion price tag is relatively low, dwarfed by over $300 billion the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations transferred to support their own agriculture in 2001, the report said.

Reducing hunger is not only a moral obligation, it makes economic sense, experts said.

Halving the number of undernourished people would yield at least $120 billion a year in benefits as a result of longer, healthier and more productive lives for several hundred million people freed from hunger, the report also said.











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