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One billion people go hungry in 2010

More than one billion people worldwide are going hungry this year, alarming new figures reveal.

Poverty, fighting and political instability mean some one billion are malnourished, according to a report released yesterday (Monday) by the International Food Policy Research Institute and other aid groups. Most of them are children in Africa and Asia.

Of the 122 countries covered in the 2010 Global Hunger Index 25 were found to have "alarming" levels of hunger and four countries in Africa have "extremely alarming" hunger.

Countries with high levels of hunger must tackle child nutrition including prenatal nutrition and nutrition education programs for pregnant women, said the institute’s Marie Ruel.

"To improve their scores, many countries must accelerate progress in reducing child malnutrition,” Ms Ruel said. “Considerable research shows that the window of opportunity for improving nutrition spans from conception to age two. After age two, the negative effects of under-nutrition are largely irreversible. In order to improve child nutrition, programs and policies have to focus on this window of opportunity. Early childhood undernutrition perpetuates poverty from one generation to another."

But there has been some progress. The percentage of undernourished people fell from 20 per cent in 1990 to 1992 to 16 per cent in 2004 to 2006. "Compared to the 1990 score, globally the global hunger index has improved by 24 percent," Ms Ruel said. "Progress, however, varies greatly by region and by country,” she added.

Bärbel Dieckmann, from Welthungerhilfe, a German charity involved in the report added: "The health of women, specifically mothers, is crucial to reducing child malnutrition. Mothers who were poorly nourished as girls tend to give birth to underweight babies, perpetuating the cycle of under-nutrition."

The Democratic Republic of Congo fared the worst in the hunger index, based on the number of underweight children and the child death rate. Three-quarters of people in the central African country were under-nourished, and it has one of the world’s highest child death rates, researchers found.

"Protracted civil conflict since the late 1990s led to an economic collapse, massive displacements of people, and a chronic state of food insecurity," in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said the report.

The other three countries with very high hunger levels were Burundi, Eritrea and Chad. All have been involved in conflict for many years.

But Haiti too, scene of the catastrophic earthquake earlier this year had high proportions of undernourished people − more than half its population.

Hayley attribution