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close this bookTackling Hunger in a World Full of Food: Tasks Ahead for Food Aid (WFP)
close this folder1. Food security: sustaining people
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentTimes of plenty do not rule out hunger
View the documentHumanitarian crises and acute hunger
View the documentHunger within the household
View the documentThe chronically poor and hungry
View the documentThe geography of hunger

The geography of hunger

Hunger is a global problem
1.17 Nowhere is immune to hunger if conditions lend themselves to massive failures in nutrition and health. Recent tragedies in eastern Europe and former Soviet republics have underlined this fact. That said, hunger affects certain people in certain places more than others. For example, acute hunger that can lead to famine tends not to be found in cities (unless they are placed under seige or devastated by conflict), or in regions of high agricultural output. Widespread, acute hunger has not been prevalent in temperate climates in the absence of war or discriminatory policies for 150 years. It tends not to be found where transaction costs for food marketing are low.
1.18 By contrast, the kinds of hunger that need to be addressed by targeted food aid are widely found in regions where economic returns to agriculture tend to be low, and in which there are high transactions costs due to deficient infrastructure and inefficient markets. This combination of risks is characteristic of the poorest countries of the world, particularly low-income, food-deficit countries located in the semi-arid, warm sub-humid and cool tropics (Sharma et al. 1995; Rosegrant et al. 1995). Additional nutrition problems are to be found among impoverished households in urban slums worldwide. The latter are often attributable to insanitary living conditions and certain micronutrient deficiencies that may not be best tackled through food assistance.
1.19 Currently, the largest number of people facing food deficiencies are in Asia (Figure 1). The number of people not eating a minimum diet in southern and eastern Asia is estimated to be over 500 million, equivalent to 18 percent of the population of the region (ACC/SCN 1993; FAO 1995b).
1.20 In South Asia, more than two-thirds of the hungry are to be found in the driest agro-ecological zones of warm tropics (Broca and Oram 1991). Their diet is dominated by coarse grains such as millet and sorghum (with other cereals and cassava acting as important complements). While rice and wheat were the star performers of the Green Revolution, the driest areas of the sub-region benefited relatively less from such technologies than did the moister tropics and sub-tropics.
1.21 Hunger and poverty increased in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean in the structural adjustments of the 1980s. The number of chronically undernourished is estimated to have grown from 46 million in 1980 to over 60 million in the early 1990s; this amounts to 14 percent of the population (FAO 1995b). Considerable improvements are anticipated in malnutrition rates in these two regions during coming decades, as they are relatively less poor than sub-Saharan Africa and generally enjoy better market and institutional infrastructures.
1.22 Sub-Saharan Africa shows the most cause for concern, characterized as it is by a decline in domestic per capita production, high fertility rates, natural disasters and the growing problem of emergencies displacing huge numbers of people. Over 200 million (more than 40 percent) of the continent's population is chronically malnourished (FAO 1995b). Roughly 50 percent of Africa's poor inhabit semi-arid regions and therefore depend on low and variable rainfall for food production (Broca and Oram 1991). As a result, local diets are dominated by low-yielding coarse grains (traditional maize, millet and sorghum) and roots and tubers that have so far shown limited potential for productivity increases.