Setting

At the beginning of the 21st century, some 30% of the world's population suffered from one or more forms of undernutrition (FAO, 2002). Approximately 800 million persons remain undernourished, facing daily shortfalls of 100 to 400 kilocal-ories in meeting basic energy requirements. Micronutrient deficiencies are even more widespread, with an estimated 2 billion people afflicted by anemia mainly from iron deficiency, thus causing mental retardation and other disorders. Some 740 million people suffer disorders such as mental retardation and delayed motor development from iodine deficiency. Vitamin deficiencies also are widespread.

Considerable progress in addressing world hunger is apparent from data in Table 27.1 compiled by FAO. The number of individuals who on average do not consume enough dietary energy for normal activity and health fell steadily from 917 million persons annually in 1969-1971 to 777 million persons in 1997-1999, or by 5 million persons per year. Overall progress in reducing the incidence of undernutrition is spectacular. The proportion of population undernourished in the developing world was halved, falling from 35% in

Table 27.1 Actual and Projected Undernutrition in Developing Countries, Selected Years, 1969 to 2010

Million Persons Actual

Million Persons

(% region total)

(% region total)

1969-

1979-

1990-

1997-

Projected

Region

1971

1981

1992

1999

2010

Latin America and

53

48

59

54

40

Caribbean

(19)

(14)

(13)

(10)

(7)

South Asia

238

303

289

303

200

(33)

(34)

(26)

(24)

(12)

East and Southeast Asia

475

378

275

193

123

(41)

(27)

(16)

(10)

(6)

Near East and North

48

27

25

32

53

Africa

(27)

(12)

(8)

(9)

(10)

Sub-Saharan Africa

103

148

168

194

264

(38)

(41)

(35)

(34)

(30)

Total developing

917

904

816

777

680

countries

(35)

(28)

(20)

(17)

(12)

Source: From Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1996. Food and Agriculture 1996. FAO, Rome; and Food and Agriculture Organization. 2002. The Way Ahead: The State of Food Security in the World, 2001. FAO, Rome. Projections for 2010 from FAO (1996).

Source: From Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 1996. Food and Agriculture 1996. FAO, Rome; and Food and Agriculture Organization. 2002. The Way Ahead: The State of Food Security in the World, 2001. FAO, Rome. Projections for 2010 from FAO (1996).

1969-1971 to 17% in 1997-1999. Continuing progress is suggested by projections for year 2010 in Table 27.1.

Undernourishment differs widely among regions, as shown in Table 27.1. Ninety percent of the undernourished people in developing countries resided in South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Sarahan Africa in 1997-1999. Thus, progress in reducing hunger will depend in great part on what happens in these regions. South Asia (Indian subcontinent) alone accounted for two-fifths of the undernourished. In that region, numbers of undernourished people have not changed much in recent decades, but the proportion of undernourished people fell from 34% in 1979-1981 to 24% in 1997-1999.

Economic progress in China accounts for most of the 282 million fewer undernourished people in East and Southeast Asia in 1997-1999 compared to 1969-1971. The reduced incidence of undernutrition in that region is even more striking, going from 41% to 10% during the same period.

Progress toward food security in Sub-Sarahan Africa is mixed, at best. In that region, the number of undernourished people has increased, and the proportion of people undernourished remains high and well above proportions in other regions.

Average dietary (food) energy supplies data in Table 27.2, like data in Table 27.1, show considerable progress toward food security. Food supplies are more available than ever. Kilocalories per capita increased in all major food-short regions between 1990-1992 and 1997-1999. The East and Southeast Asia together comprised the only region to exceed the overall average increase of 5.5% for the developing world during that period. Among countries with more than 25 million people, China led the developing world, having experienced a 12.2% rise in food energy supply per capita between 1990-1992 and 1997-1999.

The dietary energy supply in Sub-Sarahan Africa increased by 3.3%, a rate below that for developing countries as a whole, but higher than the rates for South Asia and for the Near East and North Africa. Optimism must be tempered, however, because calories per capita remain the lowest in Sub-Sarahan Africa.

Table 27.2 Average Per Capita Dietary Energy Supply, 1990-1992 and 1997-1999

1990-1992

1997-1999

(kilocalories/ (kilocalories/ Change

Region

day)

day)

(%)

Latin America and Caribbean

2710

2830

4.4

South Asia

2330

2400

3.0

East and Southeast Asia

2647

2899

9.4

Near East and North Africa

3010

3010

0.0

Sub-Saharan Africa

2120

2190

3.3

Total, developing countries

2540

2680

5.5

Source: From Food and Agriculture Organization. 2002. The Way Ahead: The State of Food Security in the World, 2001. Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome.

Source: From Food and Agriculture Organization. 2002. The Way Ahead: The State of Food Security in the World, 2001. Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome.

Fortunately, food supplies do not depend only on local food production. Food can be imported to meet dietary needs. Thus, the evidence that numerous Sub-Sahara African countries have diminishing capacity to produce enough to feed themselves is not decisive — they can import food. But that conclusion raises another troubling issue: Can nations raise overall economic productivity enough to finance food imports if they cannot produce enough food at home?

World leaders meeting at the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996 pledged to halve the number of chronically undernourished people in the world, approximately 766 million at that time, by 2015. At the 1990-1992 to 1997-1999 rate of 5.6 million persons lifted out of undernutrition per year, the World Food Summit target will not be met until 2064. One reason for slow progress is inadequate understanding of the causes and cures for food insecurity.

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