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UN Official Urges Top Priority For Fighting Hunger


New York, May 12 2004 11:00AM

With one child dying every five seconds from hunger-related diseases, the head of the United Nations emergency feeding agency has appealed to the United States to put a greater priority on funds for people suffering from chronic hunger than just on the victims of high-profile disasters and emergencies.

“During the course of this hearing several hundred people will die from hunger,” World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director James Morris told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington yesterday.

“Most of the victims will be malnourished young children too weak to fight off the disease. Their deaths will occur quietly in dusty villages in Malawi, the slums of Mumbai, the highlands of Peru. These deaths will not make the news,” he testified.

With more than 40 million people infected with HIV, some two-thirds of them living in conditions of severe poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Morris highlighted the critical role food aid plays in helping people living with HIV/AIDS fight the disease.

“Ending AIDS is not a battle we will win with medicine alone – we need proper nutrition, education and clean water,” he said. “The AIDS coverage in the media focuses heavily on the demand for anti-retroviral drugs, but if you were to go out and talk to families in southern Africa, the hardest hit region, you would get a very different picture. These people talk about food.”

People need good nutrition to fight infection, regain strength and live productively. Malnutrition breaks down people’s immune systems and makes them more prone to disease, including AIDS, he added. He urged Congress to provide more food aid to AIDS orphans, expected to rise to 20 million children by 2010, and increase school feeding programs. WFP provides nutritious school meals to children in 69 countries to attract them to school, increase retention rates and improve learning ability.

The US Government has been the top donor to WFP since its inception in 1963 and continues to be the agency’s most generous contributor. Last year it donated nearly $1.5 billion for feeding programmes in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zambia. Currently, more than 800 million people are chronically hungry, a figure which increased by 18 million in the second half of the 1990s. One in four of the world’s children under five years old is underweight – 168 million all told. At the same time, WFP is facing a shortfall in 2004 of 1.8 million tons of food, or $1 billion, for critical operations in 2004.

2004-05-12 00:00:00.000

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