An Ethiopian family walks near Korom northeast Ethiopia
Radu Sigheti  /  Reuters file
An Ethiopian family walks near Korom, northeast Ethiopia, last month.
updated 12/8/2004 9:20:42 AM ET 2004-12-08T14:20:42

The number of hungry people in the world has hardly budged in the eight years since nations pledged to cut the number in half by 2015, a U.N. agency said Wednesday.

The target of cutting the number of undernourished people in the developing world in half by 2015 is still within reach, the Food and Agriculture Organization said, contending it would cost countries far less than the amount it would gain in extra productivity and income.

Though the number of hungry people in developing countries fell in the early 1990’s, that trend was later reversed, the Rome-based agency said in its annual report on world hunger. By 2000-2002 the figure stood at 815 million, just 9 million below the 1990-1992 estimate.

The report drew said the present levels of hunger cause the death of more than 5 million children every year — or one child every five seconds.

Governments set the goal of halving the undernourished people by 2015 at the U.N. World Food Summit in 1996, using the period 1990-1992 as a baseline.

Wednesday’s report said hunger and malnutrition cost around $30 billion in direct medical expenses each year, with estimated indirect costs due to premature death and disability ballooning into hundreds of billions of dollars.

The report blamed the recent rise in hunger levels largely on reversed gains in the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, with the number of undernourished people in other developing countries holding steady.

All but one of the 16 countries with the highest levels of hunger are in sub-Saharan Africa, with many suffering from food emergencies, the report said. It said that the number of food emergencies each year has more than doubled since the 1980’s, much of those because of wars or economic failure.

The report argued that fighting hunger was a good investment, saying the global costs of achieving the target pale in comparison to the price of not acting.

An annual increase in funding of $24 billion is needed to reach the hunger target, the agency estimated.

Hartwig De Haen, of the agency’s economic and social department who oversaw the report, said the target was “ambitious but still feasible.”

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