UN reports 1 billion of the world’s people going hungry

Published on WSWS, by Jerry White, 18 September 2009.

For the first time in history, more than one billion people, or nearly one in every 6 inhabitants of the planet, are going hungry this year, according to a new report from the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP). Chronic poverty, still high food prices and the impact of the world economic crisis have led to a sharp increase in the number of hungry people, now larger than the combined populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union …

… A host of irreversible physical ailments can be caused by undernourishment – the insufficient intake of calories to meet minimum physiological needs – and malnutrition – the lack of sufficient levels of proteins, vitamins and other nutrients. 

The most common form of malnutrition is iron deficiency, Livescience.com noted, which affects billions worldwide and can impede brain development. Vitamin A deficiency affects 140 million preschool children in 118 countries and is the leading cause of child blindness. It also kills one million infants a year, according to UNICEF.

Iodine deficiency affects 780 million people worldwide. Babies born to iodine deficient mothers can have mental impairments, the web site noted. Zinc deficiency results in the deaths of about 800,000 children each year and weakens the immune system of young children.

The desperation facing millions produced tragedy Monday when a stampede of people seeking free food in the southern Pakistan port city of Karachi left up to 20 impoverished women and children dead. Officials said they were crushed in a stairwell and alley, as hundreds lined up to get free flour from charity workers.

Police and other witnesses told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that a private security guard in charge of making sure the women stayed in line charged them with a baton when they became impatient with the long wait. An injured woman, Salma Qadir, 40, said the women wanted to get their rations quickly but were beaten by the guard. “The women got scared and tried to turn back, which scared others and resulted in a stampede,” she told the AFP.

The narrow streets of the market area were reportedly teeming with hundreds of poor people seeking scarce wheat and sugar. Poverty levels in the city of 14 million people have been on the rise along with food prices, which government officials blame on hoarding by mills and large wholesalers. The BBC reported that Pakistan’s government had recently ordered a crackdown against such hoarding, “[b]ut this failed to materialize thus far due to the lobby’s massive influence in Pakistan’s parliament.”

According to the World Food Program, 85 percent of the South Asian country’s 173 million people live on less than US$2 a day. Hunger in the country has been exacerbated by world financial breakdown, skyrocketing food prices and the US-backed war in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province and tribal areas, which has driven millions from their homes. Currently the WFP is trying to provide daily food rations to 100,000 displaced people in the war-torn area. (full text).

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