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Setback reported in global war against hunger

U.N. report: Number of hungry dropped, then grew in 1990s

War and drought have contributed to the growth of hunger in parts of Africa.
War and drought have contributed to the growth of hunger in parts of Africa.

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(CNN) -- World hunger is growing again after a steady fall in the first half of the 1990s, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization.

"FAO's latest estimates signal a setback in the war against hunger," the organization said in its annual hunger report, released Tuesday.

The number of hungry people in the developing world increased by 18 million in the second half of the 1990s after dropping by 37 million in the first half of the decade, according to "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003."

The FAO estimates that 842 million people were undernourished from 1999-2001, the most recent year for which figures were available.

That included "10 million in industrialized countries, 34 million in countries in transition and 798 million in developing countries," according to a news release summarizing the report.

Latin America and the Caribbean, however, showed a decline in the number of hungry since the mid-1990s.

Nineteen countries, including China, reduced the number of undernourished people throughout the 1990s and the number of hungry people dropped by over 80 million.

In addition, in 22 countries, including Bangladesh, Haiti and Mozambique, "the number of undernourished declined during the second half of the decade after rising through the first five years," the report summary said.

"In 17 other countries, however, the trend shifted in the opposite direction and the number of undernourished people, which had been falling, began to rise.

"This group includes a number of countries with large populations, among them India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sudan."

The number of hungry in 26 countries increased by 60 million during the period, the summary said.

Countries with higher economic and agricultural growth and low population growth were most successful in reducing hunger, according to preliminary analysis.

War, drought, AIDS blamed in Africa

Hunger has grown in parts of Africa because of war and drought.

The report addressed the AIDS crisis in Africa, saying the southern African food crisis of 2002-2003 underscored the fact that "hunger cannot be combated effectively in regions ravaged by AIDS, unless interventions address the particular needs of AIDS-affected households and incorporate measures both to prevent and to mitigate the spread of HIV/AIDS."

The report said 60 percent to 70 percent of farms in the region lost workers because of AIDS.

Lack of know-how and resources to grow staple and commercial crops have forced households to cultivate food for subsistence or abandon their fields.

"Success in reducing hunger will depend on mustering the political will to engage in policy reforms and invest resources where they can do the most good for the poor and hungry," FAO official Hartwig de Haen said in the news release.

The report noted the World Food Summit goal of cutting in half the number of undernourished people by 2015 has become virtually unreachable.

"The goal can only be reached if the recent trend of increasing numbers is reversed, said de Haen, who heads the Economic and Social Department.

"The annual reductions must be accelerated to 26 million per year, more than 12 times the pace of 2.1 million per year achieved during the 1990s."

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