The United Nations’ food agencies have revised down a projection that the number of hungry people in the world had topped one billion in the wake of the global economic crisis, announcing a new estimate of 868 million for the 2010-12 period.

The statistical revision brought the international community much closer to halving the proportion of chronically hungry people over the 1990-2015 period – one of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

“The increase in hunger during 2007-10 was less severe than previously thought,” the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Program (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said in a new report on Tuesday.

“The 2008-09 economic crisis did not cause an immediate sharp economic slowdown in many developing countries as we feared,” the 2012 edition of The State of Food Insecurity in the World indicated.

Back in 2009, FAO announced a record-high estimate of 1.02 billion, attracting worldwide attention. But already the following year it marked down its forecast to 925 million.

Tuesday’s figures – calculated on the basis of updated population figures and previously ignored factors such as food wastage in the retail sector – significantly altered the statistical picture of the last 20 years.

For example, the number of hungry people in developing countries in 1990-92 was not 833 million – as FAO had estimated last year – but 980 million, or 23.2 per cent of the population.

Halving that share by 2015, as the MDG prescribes, now means reaching 11.6 per cent, whereas the numerical target was much higher before.

The three UN agencies said that, on current trends, “the prevalence of undernourishment in developing nations is set to fall to 12.5 per cent, still above the MDG target, but significantly closer to it than previously estimated.”

However, in a warning against complacency, the heads of the FAO, WFP and IFAD recalled that over 2.5 million children a year die while “over 100 million children” are stunted in their growth due to malnutrition.

Overall progress against global hunger had “slowed and levelled off” since 2007, the three UN agencies also cautioned, urging governments to revive economic growth.

On a regional level, big reductions compared to the early 1990s were achieved in Asia and the Pacific as well as in Latin America, whereas the situation worsened in Africa and the Middle East, the FAO, WFP and IFAD said.

Benin, Mali and Niger in Africa, Thailand and Vietnam in Asia and Nicaragua and Peru in Latin America were singled out as the best national performances. The laggards in those same three regions were Burundi and Ivory Coast, Iraq and Uzbekistan, and Guatemala.

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