World Bulletin / News Desk
One out of every eight people in the world is chronically undernourished, the United Nations' food agencies said on Tuesday, and aid groups warned that rising food prices could reverse gains in the fight against hunger.
In a report on food insecurity, the UN agencies said 868 million people were hungry in 2010-2012, or about 12.5 percent of the world's population, down more sharply than previously estimated from about 1 billion, or 18.6 percent in 1990-92.
The new figures, based on a revised calculation method and more up-to-date data, are lower than the last estimates for recent years that pegged the number of hungry people at 925 million in 2010 and 1.02 billion in 2009.
"That is better news than we have had in the past, but it still means that one person in every eight goes hungry. That is unacceptable, especially when we live in a world of plenty," said Jose Graziano da Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
"Most of the progress in hunger reduction was made until 2006, as food price levels continued to decline. With the rise in food prices and the economic crisis that followed, there have been many fewer advances," he warned.
Food prices have risen over the past few months, fuelled by drought in the United States, Russia and other major grain exporters, and FAO expects prices to remain close to levels reached during the 2008 food crisis.
But Graziano da Silva said the world can still achieve the Millennium Development Goal to halve the prevalence of undernourishment in the developing world by 2015.
The goal is one of a series of targets adopted by world leaders at the United Nations in 2000 to slash poverty, hunger and disease in poor countries by 2015
Economic recovery, especially in the agriculture sector, will be crucial for sustained hunger reduction, according to the report by FAO, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
"Agricultural growth involving smallholders, especially women, will be most effective in reducing extreme poverty and hunger when it generates employment for the poor," the agencies said.
They said factors holding up progress include growing biofuel demand, financial speculation in food commodity markets and inefficiencies in food supply and distribution which lead to almost a third of total production being wasted.
Luca Chinotti from aid agency Oxfam said lack of political action to tackle high food prices, gender inequality, land grabs and climate change risked reversing past gains in the fight against hunger.
"The fact that ... more than the population of the U.S., Europe and Canada are hungry in a world which produces enough for everyone to eat is the biggest scandal of our time," he said.
He urged governments to use a food summit next week to boost efforts to create a more sustainable food system. He suggested building up food reserves as a buffer to high prices and introducing protection programmes for those most at risk of hunger.
The Committee on World Food Security, an intergovernmental body, meets in Rome next week around World Food Day on Oct. 16, when a ministerial meeting will discuss high food prices.
FAO, WFP and IFAD define undernourishment, or hunger, in the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 (SOFI) report as "food intake that is insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements continuously".
The vast majority of people suffering hunger, 852 million, live in developing countries, where the prevalence of undernourishment is estimated at 14.9 percent, the report found.
In the past two decades hunger has fallen by nearly 30 percent in Asia and the Pacific, due to socio-economic progress. Africa was the only region where the number of hungry grew over the period, to 239 million in 2010-12 from 175 million in 1990-92.
The new figures followed adjustments to population size and human height estimates. They also took into account a more detailed assessment of food availability and the amount of food wasted along the supply chain.
Volatility eased as traders focused on the world economy and corporate earnings after a week dominated by the dramatic spike in tensions over North Korea, which triggered a global sell-off before prices bounced back Monday.
Investors greeted the more conciliatory tone after US stocks dropped three days in a row last week on President Donald Trump's vow of "fire and fury" if North Korea continued to pursue its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
The ultra-conservative kingdom has moved to diversify its traditionally oil-dependent economy following a sharp fall in crude prices.
In its monthly report on the global oil market, the International Energy Agency said, however, that it believes the supply glut is easing, partly because demand is growing faster.
US stocks have been in retreat since President Donald Trump Tuesday issued a fiery warning to North Korea to halt its nuclear program.
The move by one of Japan's best-known firms greatly reduces the chance of an embarrassing delisting from the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE).
London's benchmark FTSE 100 index weakened by 0.5 percent to 7,503.39 points.
The approval by the European Commission comes just over two months after the European Central Bank -- which took on the role of the eurozone's banking supervisor in 2014 -- allowed the sale to go ahead for a symbolic fee of one euro.
BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total have all published results in recent days, showing they pocketed $23 billion in net profit in the first half fo the year.
Higher cereal, sugar and dairy prices pushed food price index by 10.2 percent annually in July
HSBC was also a big riser, gaining three percent at £7.65 ($10, 8.5 euros) in late morning trade after the British banking giant announced a share buyback plan alongside a rise in first-half profits.
Both main crude contracts made strong gains, with WTI testing $50 a barrel for the first time since late May and Brent heading towards $53, while mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto saw their share price rise as commodities strengthened.