The United Nations committee tasked with building alliances in the global fight against hunger has warned that the world financial crisis will aggravate malnutrition among the most vulnerable in developing countries.
According to the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN), recent estimates suggest that soaring food prices combined with the global economic meltdown will push more than 1 billion of the world’s poorest people into hunger in 2009.
The group is pressing governments to invest in programmes that increase the productivity of smallholder farmers, strengthen the livelihoods of the poorest households, and supply local markets with affordable and safe foods for a healthy diet, in the margins of the upcoming summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations in Italy.
“Experience from previous food crises show that the first move by poor households is to reduce food expenses and cut down on non-staple food consumption,” the UNSCN said in a news release.
“These coping mechanisms first affect the diversity and safety of diets, the size of portions and ultimately the energy intake,” it added.
With the global economy expected to shrink by 1.7 per cent, gross domestic product (GDP) growth in developing countries forecast to slow to 2.1 per cent and recession predicted for those nations, a “shocking” 53 million people will join the ranks of extremely poor in 2009, on top of the jump from 130 to 155 million in the previous three years, said the Committee.
The poor economy coupled with rising food prices in many countries has meant that the working hours needed to feed a household of five increased by 10 hours a week or more, and with higher unemployment the number of family members supported by wage-earners is growing.
The Committee said that the resulting malnutrition has economic and social consequences for any population, including a deterioration in the ability to work, lower potential incomes for individuals and households, and higher health costs in the short and long term.