- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2008

UNITED NATIONS

Hunger is hitting 40 million more people than a year ago, according to the U.N. agriculture agency, citing food crises in Congo, Ethiopia, North Korea and India.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that global hunger affects 936 million people, most suffering from high food prices, shortages and the economic slowdown.

Also, water scarcity has contributed to food shortages, as natural supplies of fresh water are increasingly harnessed for nonfood production, said Maude Barlow, the water adviser to the U.N. General Assembly.

“We are about to declare that the right to water is like the right to oxygen,” Miss Barlow said Tuesday. “It should not be a commodity like Coca-Cola.”



Although the costs of some commodities - such as cereal, fertilizer and seed stocks - have declined from January’s highs, many in the developing world remain priced out of minimal food needs.

“For millions of people in developing countries, eating the minimum amount of food every day to live an active and healthy life is a distant dream,” said Hafez Ghanem, the FAO’s assistant director-general.

The Rome based organization’s report, “State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008,” predicts growing problems feeding the world.

Climate change is shrinking arable lands, thirst is displacing people and creating widespread insecurity, and costs of seeds and fertilizer are likely to increase, the report said.

The FAO said more than two-thirds of the hungry live in Asia, with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and India among the hardest hit.

Despite pockets of progress, one in three Africans are hungry, the agency says, with 76 percent of those in Congo considered undernourished.

The Middle East and North Africa, traditionally the least hungry areas, have experienced a doubling of the chronically hungry, to 37 million people.

Water scarcity is exacerbating the shortages, as aquifers, freshwater lakes and other sources of potable water become depleted.

Diseases related to dirty water such as cholera, dysentery and the resulting dehydration claim more children’s lives than war or AIDS, Miss Barlow said.

Potable water, she said, should be used for drinking and growing crops before it is used to fill swimming pools or water golf courses.

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