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Erasing hunger should remain a priority

Partially as a result of the global financial crisis, a billion people in the world are suffering from hunger, according to an Associated Press summary of a United Nations report.

Hunger now afflicts one in six people worldwide because of war, drought, political instability, high food prices and poverty, according to the U.N. estimate.

"No part of the world is immune," said Jacques Diouf, head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. "All world regions have been affected by the rise of food insecurity."

Compared with last year, there are 100 million more people who are hungry, meaning that they consume fewer than 1,800 calories a day, the agency said.

The U.N. agency said the world’s most populous region, Asia and the Pacific, has the largest number of hungry people — 642 million, up 10.5 percent from last year. In sub-Saharan Africa, there are 265 million undernourished people, an 11.8 percent increase. Even in the developed world, undernourishment is a growing concern, with 15 million in all and a 15.4 percent increase, the sharpest rise around the world.

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Even though prices have retreated from their highs in mid-2008, they are still "stubbornly high," according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. On average, food prices were 24 percent higher in real terms at the end of 2008, compared with 2006.

"Malnutrition kills through the fact that it weakens the immune system of a child," said Andrei Engstrand-Neacsu, a Nairobi-based spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in East Africa. Some 22 million of the 1 billion hungry people counted by the U.N. are in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa, he said.

Engstrand-Neascsu said he had just returned from a corner of southern Ethiopia on the Kenyan border where the food situation is dire and had been speaking to a family who had lost a child to malaria in February. The parents said they had been told that their son couldn’t be saved because he was malnourished.

Engstrand-Neacsu called on donors to act before "skeletal African children are shown on the television screen at dinnertime" in the West.

The number of hungry people is estimated to have reached 1.02 billion, up 11 percent from last year’s 915 million, the Food and Agriculture Association said. The agency said it based its estimate on an analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Solving the problem of worldwide hunger should certainly be among the top goals of the United Nations and of the United States and other developed countries around the world.

Bill Boyne is a retired editor and

publisher at the Post-Bulletin. His weekly column appears Wednesdays.

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