FACTSHEET: Hunger, the world's silent killer

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Thursday, 15 September 2005 00:00 GMT

A Bangladeshi flood victim eats his food in front of a relief centre in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka in August 2004. REUTERS/Jayanta Shaw

LONDON (AlertNet)

- While acute food emergencies such as those in Niger in 2005 and Ethiopia in 1984 grab headlines, galvanising the public and donors to respond, most people who die of hunger worldwide do so out of the media spotlight.

According to the U.N. World Food Programme, only eight percent of hunger&${esc.hash}39;s victims die in dramatic, high-profile emergencies.

More than 850 million chronically hungry people live in the world today &${esc.hash}39; most of them women and children. On average, 10 million die every year of hunger &${esc.hash}39; more than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.

In contrast, up to 70 million people died in famines in the whole of the 20th century, according to the University of Sussex&${esc.hash}39;s Institute of Development Studies.

In 2000, the international community committed itself to halving the proportion of hungry people in the developing world by 2015.

Here are some facts about hunger from the Food and Agriculture Organisation:

  • 852 million people worldwide experience chronic hunger. Some 815 million are in developing countries, 28 million in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union countries and 9 million live in the West.

  • One child dies every five seconds because of hunger. That&${esc.hash}39;s about 6.5 million children a year.

  • Undernourished children are more susceptible to ordinary illnesses &${esc.hash}39; they are more likely to die of measles or diarrhoea, for example. They also have difficulty learning in school, do not reach full height and have trouble with coordination and mobility. These problems often continue into adulthood.

  • An estimated 17 million babies born every year are underweight, inheriting hunger from their mothers who are themselves undernourished.

  • Underweight babies are more likely to die in infancy, have stunted growth and reduced ability to work as adults. If they are female they are likely to give birth to underweight babies themselves.

  • Iron deficiency affects 1.7 billion people. If a woman has iron deficiency she is more likely to die in childbirth, have difficulty learning at school, have poor mobility and have difficulty working as an adult.

    According to the International Scientific Symposium on Measurement and Assessment of Food Deprivation and Undernutrition, almost half of people living in Central, East and Southern Africa do not have enough food to eat. Only six countries elsewhere have such high rates - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Haiti, the Democratic People&${esc.hash}39;s Republic of Korea, Mongolia and Yemen.

    "If reporters from Mars visited earth don&${esc.hash}39;t you think that their lead story would be: &${esc.hash}39;One in six humans go hungry&${esc.hash}39;? And yet that never makes headline news.&${esc.hash}39;

    British news presenter Jon Snow

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