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LIVE8: WFP hunger facts for Africa

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Rome, Banishing hunger must be a large part of making poverty history. One African in three is malnourished. Hunger in Africa, like elsewhere, is both a cause and an effect of poverty. There is saying in Africa: "When you take hunger out of poverty, poverty is halved."

WFP aims to feed 26 million victims of food crises on the continent this year because of drought, conflict, HIV/AIDS, locust infestations and economic problems. So far it has barely half the contributions it needs ($1 billion) to keep these people alive and build better lives.

Tackling hunger is vital to making poverty history. Research suggests that developing countries that focus exclusively on poverty - without paying special attention to hunger - will take a generation longer to make real progress on improving their people's nutrition and health.

While global poverty dropped by 20 per cent during the 1990s, the number of hungry actually rose. Today the total number of people around the world who know the pain of hunger stands at a staggering 852 million.

In 7 southern Africa countries the number of people in need of emergency food aid this year has rapidly risen from 3.5 million to 8.3 million, mainly because of drought - 4 million in Zimbabwe, 1.6 million in Malawi, 1.2 million in Zambia, 900,000 in Mozambique, 245,000 in Lesotho, 230,000 in Swaziland and 60,000 in Namibia.

In addition, the triple threat of HIV/AIDS, food insecurity and weakening capacity for service delivery is leaving whole societies much more vulnerable to external shocks.

But WFP has received less than 20 percent (US$67 million) of the US$405 million that it needs for its regional operation in southern Africa through to the end of 2006. Without food assistance, millions of the most vulnerable stand no chance of escaping poverty.

In Ethiopia, 8.3 million people need food and other assistance so far this year including 3.8 million who need emergency food aid because of poor harvests, degraded land, small land-holdings, high population growth and losses of crops, livestock and other assets.

WFP is piloting a famine insurance scheme for Ethiopia, which has the highest per capita donations for emergencies and the lowest for development. This innovative approach will help people protect their belongings when a crisis hits, and reduce dependency on food aid.

In Sudan, Africa 's largest country, peace talks on the western region of Darfur resumed in June. But these protracted negotiations and a largely ignored ceasefire mean little to the 3.5 million people - more than half the region's entire population - who will need food aid in Darfur at the height of the annual 'hunger season' from August through to October.

In southern Sudan, alarming hotspots of malnutrition are appearing with the start of the rains and the annual 'hunger season' after a poor harvest in 2004. With more than 200,000 returnees in the first three months of the year, and a much greater number expected after the rains end in September, communities need assistance now if they are going to survive.

Hotspots in Northern Bahr El Ghazal are reviving memories of a 1998 famine. WFP's plans to feed 3.2 million people in the south, east and transitional areas are being thwarted by a critical shortage of funds. WFP's Emergency Operation has a 59 percent shortfall.

Other African hunger hotspots include the Democratic Republic of Congo , where WFP's operation to feed 2.9 million people in 2004 and 2005 at a cost of US$160 million has a 47 percent shortfall, and Mali and Niger - both hit by locust invasions and drought.

Latest estimates suggest that the combined cost of protein-energy malnutrition, low birth weight babies, and micronutrient deficiencies, lose developing countries 5 to 10 percent of their GDP - at least US $500 billion. Investing in food to keep people healthy makes economic sense.

Immediate assistance for the hungry poor must be combined with long-term development to boost productivity, create employment and increase the value of the assets that poor people own. This must focus on where it is needed most - in rural areas and in agriculture.

This twin-track approach would cost an extra US$25 billion per year. Developing countries currently spend US$30 billion dealing with the consequences of hunger and malnutrition: health care for anaemic pregnant women; underweight babies; and malnourished children.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 56 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries.

WFP -- We Feed People.