13 June 2015

The latest report on the State of World Food Insecurity admits that the Millenium Development Goal 1 to reduce hunger by half will not be achieved

Fifteen years ago, world leaders gathered at UN Headquarters in New York  to approve eight Millenium Development Goals (MDG)* and commit to achieve them by 2015.

A few months before the end of 2015, it is time to take stock of achievements made during these 15 years.

At, we are particularly concerned by achievements reached in the area of hunger. It must be recalled here that the MDG 1 on poverty and hunger had fixed as an objective to reduce by half the proportion of the world population living in extreme hunger and poverty (earlier, in 1996 during the First World Food Summit organized in Rome by FAO, world leaders had agreed to reduce by half the absolute number of hungry).

Regarding hunger, the three Rome-based agencies (FAO, IFAD and WFP) have, this year, anticipated the publication of their State of World Food Insecurity (SOFI) to the month of May, instead of the usual date of September/October.

What does this year’s report tell us about achievements made? Is the world anywhere near to achieving the hunger target fixed fifteen years ago?

This year’s SOFI, in line with the positive attitude SOFI has tended to adopt since it was first launched, presents the glass half full, although it admits in its very first sentence that ‘‘yet an unacceptably large number of people still lack the food they need for an active and healthy life’’. In this year’s release, SOFI estimates that 10.9% of the world population is as yet chronically undernourished today, compared to 14.9% at the time the commitment was made and to 18.6% for the reference period (1990-1992). So there has been progress towards the target fixed 15 years ago, but it has been missed by 1.5 points (10.9-9.4), as a reduction by half would have meant that the proportion of hungry in total world population would have dropped to 9.4%. In other words, the decrease in proportion has been 80% of what had been targeted and the rhythm of decrease of the proportion has actually slowed down since the commitment was made (-0.37 points a year between 1990-1992 and 2000-2002, and only -0.27 points a year since 2000-2002). That is certainly not a result to be proud of for all of us and it calls for a serious reconsideration of what is really been done to combat hunger.

Now if we consider the absolute number (and not the proportion) of chronically undernourished, the performance appears even worse! According to the figures released by this year’s SOFI (it must be reminded here that these figures tend to be regularly revised retrospectively often with the result obtained giving a better image of performance), 795 million people suffer from chronic undernourishment, compared to 805 million last year, 930 million in 2000-2002, and 1010 million in the base year 1990-1992. The World Food Summit 1996 commitment had fixed the target for 2015 at 505 million undernourished, meaning that this target has been missed by 290 million, or 57% !!! The average yearly decrease of the number of hungry was 8 million a year over the 1990-2000 period, and 9 million a year since then. At this rhythm, it would take another 88 years to eradicate hunger (2103).

If we take as reference the estimate of around 5 million of annual victimes dying from lack of food, we can estimate that at the current rhythm of decrease of the level of undernourishment, a further 225 million people could die between today and the time when hunger is eradicated (of which 150 million children). Let’s also remember here that FAO estimated that the annual cost of hunger was 3.5 trillion dollars (approximately 1.5 times the GDP of the United Kingdom).

Let’s remember here that FAO member countries committed in December 2012 to eradicate hunger at a non-specified time-horizon…

All these figures have been contested, and many believe that they are underestimating the number of chronically undernourished people in the world and that this number has even been increasing instead of decreasing. [read more on facts and figures on hunger]

What has just been said also applies to the figures published periodically on ‘progress’ achieved in reducing poverty. In this case, it has been demonstrated that unbelievable data manipulation has occurred which has led to figures which hide the actual increase of the number of poor in the world [read].

These data manipulations and the efforts to make the public believe, by using ‘communication tricks’, that the world is improving calls for a broader reflection. We live in a world where we are all overfed with information, adverts and communication, and where we often have problems to know whether what we hear is real information, an advertisement or some communication language aimed at giving a good image of whoever addresses us. Through this flow of data, pictures and words, we are given to believe that we know more and more what is happening out there, but in fact reality is often being depicted not as it is, but as it suits whoever is communicating. This is true for big private corporations [read - in French only] but also increasingly for our public organisations (governments, international organisations, etc.). It is important in this situation, to keep intact our faculty to think critically, to challenge the information and data we get and filter among all the language that is dumped on us, what is real and what suits those who speak, while avoiding to become a victim of paranoia and see conspiracies everywhere…

* Eight Millenium Development Goals: (1) Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; (2) Achieve universal primary education; (3) Promote gender equality and empower women; (4) Reduce child mortality; (5) Improve maternal health; (6) Combat HIV/AID, malaria and other diseases; (7) Ensure environmental sustainability; (8) Global partnership for development.


Further readings:

  1. -FAO, IFAD and WFP, State of World Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2015

  2., Facts and figures on world hunger, 2015

  3. -Rome Declaration on World Food Security 1996

  4. -United Nations, GOAL 1: Eradicate extreme poverty & hunger


Last update:    June 2015

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