New York (UN/epo). - Away from the media glare of immediate mass disasters, more than six million people have already died this year from the little-noticed chronic disaster of hunger and related diseases, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned in an appeal to the global community to act now.
To save scores of millions of these lives would cost the developed world over a whole year far less than it spends each week on agricultural subsidies, WFP Executive Director James Morris said in a message marking World Food Day yesterday.
At a time when the world has been shocked by the horrific images of the earthquake in Pakistan, where some 20,000 lives were wiped out in a matter of a few seconds, the donor community must not to forget that away from cameras lurked the biggest killer of all, he noted.
"Few people realize that hunger and related diseases still claim more lives than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. What is worse, the number of chronically hungry is on the rise again, after decades of progress. We're losing ground," he added.
"We believe that solving the problem of child hunger is the key to ending world hunger. If we can all work together to give today's children the chance to reach their full potential in adulthood and prepare them better as parents, we can actually break the inter-generational cycle of hunger and poverty."
In an appeal to governments, aid organizations and the private sector to redouble their efforts, Mr. Morris estimated that by the end of 13 October 6,241,512 people will have already died of hunger and related diseases so far this year.
He contrasted developed countries with their social services, unemployment benefits, child allowances and income support, to the developing world, where there are very few safety nets, citing the current drought in Niger as an example.
"With any luck, next year will be a good year for Niger," he said. "Maybe the rains will come on time, the locust swarms will be manageable and no other unexpected disaster will occur. If that happens, and it's a bit of a long shot, we can look forward to only about 450 of Niger's children dying every day of hunger related causes during the lean season. And that's the good news."
In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, each year an estimated 38,000 Haitian children between the age of 0 and 5 die, nearly one out of three because of malnutrition. This means that every single hour a Haitian child dies before reaching the age of five, simply because he or she does not have enough to eat.
Mr. Morris said that of the total number of hungry children in the world, about 100 million were currently getting no assistance at all. To provide them and the estimated 15 million under-nourished expectant and nursing mothers who are also without support, would cost about $5 billion a year. Some $2 billion could be provided by the developing countries, leaving $3 billion for the developed world to provide.
"A lot of money? Not when you consider that between them, the developed countries spend far more than that every week on agricultural subsidies," he added.