The number of hungry people in the world will fall this year for the first time in 15 years on food costs below a 2008 peak and on economic growth that’s lifting incomes, a United Nations agency said.
Hunger remains “unacceptably high,” with an estimated 925 million people undernourished this year, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in a statement on its website today. That compares with a record 1.02 billion people in 2009, according to the Rome-based agency.
The FAO’s index of world food prices was at 175.9 points in August, 18 percent below its peak in June 2008, after prices for cereals and cooking oil declined. Food costs are advancing again this year because sugar and grains are more expensive, lifting the index to the highest level in almost two years last month.
“The recent increase in food prices, if it persists, will create additional obstacles in the fight to further reduce hunger,” the FAO said. “Food prices in most low-income food- deficit countries remain above the pre-crisis level.”
Food security improved this year following several years of “strong” global cereal harvests, according to the FAO. While grain production is forecast to fall in 2010, overall supply is “adequate,” the agency said.
Improved food security is “primarily a result of better access to food due to the improvement in economic development, particularly in developing countries, combined with lower food prices,” according to the statement.
The world economy will expand this year by 4.2 percent, more than previously expected, boosting household incomes after a 0.6 percent contraction in 2009, the FAO said. It cited an International Monetary Fund outlook.
“The dip in the number of hungry people has more to do with luck and a weak economy than action,” said Gawain Kripke, policy director for Oxfam America, in an e-mailed statement. “A new global food crisis could explode at any time unless governments tackle the underlying causes of hunger.”
The greatest decline in hunger this year will take place in Asia and the Pacific region as the number of undernourished people falls by 80 million to 578 million, the FAO said. In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of hungry people will decline by 12 million to 239 million, according to the UN agency.
“Developing countries account for 98 percent of the world’s undernourished people,” the FAO said. “The proportion of undernourished people remains highest in sub-Saharan Africa, at 30 percent in 2010.”
Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan are home to two-thirds of the world’s hungry, the agency said. China and India alone account for more than 40 percent of undernourishment, it said.
To reduce hunger, governments should stimulate investment in agriculture, bolster social safety nets and help rural and urban poor people generate income, the agency said.
“The fact that nearly a billion people remain hungry even after the recent food and financial crises have largely passed indicates a deeper structural problem that gravely threatens the ability to achieve internationally agreed goals on hunger reduction,” the FAO said.