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WORLD FOOD CRISIS-A silent tsunami .

One Billion Are Hungry

Last week the UN announced that the number of people suffering from hunger now totals
one billion worldwide.

Not too surprisingly, a BBC article points out that the vast majority of the world's hungry
live in developing countries. Only 15 million are in the developed world. In contrast, 265
million live in sub-Saharan Africa and more than two times as many — 642 million to be
exact — live in the Asia-Pacific region.

Since the economic crisis hit, there are about 100 million more people that are hungry.
The UN attributes this rise in world hunger to unemployment and low wages. This is turn
hurts people's ability to buy and grow food.

Jacques Diouf, the director general of the UNFAO, focused on agricultural investment as
one of the solutions to help developing countries address hunger issues. Diouf is quoted
by the BBC as saying, "Investment in agriculture must be increased because for the
majority of poor countries a healthy agricultural sector is essential to overcome poverty
and hunger and is a pre-requisite for overall economic growth."

Today almost a billion people worldwide are unable to buy or grow enough food to avoid
malnutrition. That's 120 million more than were hungry in 2006.

What happened? Basically, the world saw dramatic spikes in food prices. But there were
many underlying causes of what's known as the global food crisis:

• Drought and other climate-related problems that resulted in smaller harvests

• Changing diets — rise of the middle class in India and China and an increased
demand for food, especially meat, which requires large amounts of grain to raise
• Diversion of crops from food production to the production of biofuels
• High fuel prices during 2008 — if it costs more to transport food, prices go up
• Declining investments in agricultural productivity — total agriculture development
aid to poor countries plunged from $8 billion in 1984 to $3.4 billion in 2004. At the
same time, the developing world's cities have been ballooning with people who do not
grow any of their food
• Export bans and restrictions last year in several major grain-producing countries
like China as governments sought to lower food prices for their own citizens, with the
result of reducing the global supply on hand.

While food prices have come down from their highs of 2008, they remain substantially
above historic levels. Many economists feel this trend, which most severely affects those
who can least afford it, is likely to continue for some time.

The economic, health and societal costs of the global food crisis have been severe. One of
the first things Mercy Corps did to figure out how and where to direct our efforts was to
survey the communities where we work. We discovered that within communities Mercy
Corps serves, roughly 70 percent of income is spent on food, and 80 percent of the
population had been affected by rising food prices over the past year. The survey also
confirmed something we already suspected: that families were coping with higher prices
by eating fewer meals, selling off household belongings, going into debt and removing
children from school so that they can work.

In addition to being a record year for food prices, it's also been a record year for our food
security team, allowing Mercy Corps to aggressively respond to this crisis. We now have 17
programs in 13 countries designed specifically to respond to this on-going problem.
Through support from donors including USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the
Gap Foundation, the Hunger Site, and private individuals, our Food Crisis Response
employs a strategy designed to ensure that the groundwork for increased prosperity in the
future is laid — even while addressing the immediate problem of accessing sufficient food.
Food distributions, much of which are specifically targeted to improve child nutrition, are
taking place in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, in the Central African
Republic, India, Indonesia, Liberia, Nepal, Niger, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Uganda and again
Zimbabwe, Mercy Corps is helping hungry households to access food by providing
employment opportunities, agricultural training and inputs (such as seeds and tools), and
helping people establish and grow small businesses.

Combined, these programs are reaching almost 1.5 million individuals who have been
directly impacted by higher food prices. Overall, Mercy Corps’ Crisis Response will lead to
a sustainable increase in income for these people, leading in turn to greater food security
over the long-term.