Painfully hungry every day – the latest World Disasters Report takes a hard look at why nearly a billion people live like this, when there is enough food being produced to feed everyone.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) says further that more people are going hungry in cities and in high-income countries.
However, the vast Asia-Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa are where lifelong hunger is worst, mostly in rural areas.
The Disasters Report says the first of the UN Millennium Development Goals probably will not be achieved by 2015: that is halving the proportion of people suffering from extreme hunger and poverty.
The underfed now number some 925 million worldwide, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. Three million under-fives die from not getting enough to eat every year.
Undernutrition stunts the growth of an estimated 178 million children under the age of five.
The handicap begins from conception — while the infant is still inside the mother — when she is not adequately fed.
And of all the world’s undernourished people, six out of ten are female.
Girls in some countries are under double the threat of death from disease and lack of food as boys.
The causes of food crises, the IFRC report says, include speculation and global market fluctuation affecting prices.
Fuel prices, for instance, have a big impact on harvesting and getting crops to consumers.
Higher oil costs raise the price of food.
A woman interviewed in a produce market in Cairo one year ago said: “I’m doing my best to make a meal last for or two or three days, but it is beyond my control. I’m retired and my husband is too. I’m spending on vegetables alone. I can’t even afford fruit.”
Soon afterwards the Egyptian government’s inability to cope with the upward spiral in food prices brought people out in public protest, undermining political stability, and contributing to the fall of President Mubarak.
For building up food security more investment in agriculture is clearly essential.
Yet a core question in the report is whether investment should go to small-scale producers — where results have proved poor — or to capital-intensive farming on a big scale.