Hunger still haunts Asia despite progress

The number of undernourished in the developing world is falling but hunger, fuelled by war and weather, still stalks some Asian nations, a senior Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) official said.

"In Asia, home to three-fifths of the world's population, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, North Korea and Mongolia are the most severely malnourished in the region," R.B. Singh, assistant director-general and regional representative of the FAO in Bangkok, told Reuters in an interview.

"Elsewhere, hunger is still there in terms of the number of people who do not have adequate food, but deaths of hungry people are not as high as in those four countries."

Singh said there would be 576 million undernourished people in the developing world by 2015, of which 53 percent would be Asians. This compares with nearly 800 million undernourished in 2000, of which more than 500 million are Asians.

He said India and China were making progress in the fight against hunger.

"The most populous nations of the world - China and India - that once experienced periodic famine...are now virtually self-sufficient in food production," Singh said.

WEATHER TO BLAME?

Weather is one factor that has contributed to severe food insecurity in Bangladesh, Mongolia and North Korea, Singh said.

Bangladesh has suffered from floods and drought, while Mongolia has faced harsh cold weather, he said.

Singh said about 35-40 percent of Mongolia's animals died in 1999 because of the cold weather.

"So you can obviously see the devastation on its economy because Mongolia depends largely on its livestock sector," he said.

It was not yet known how much global warming was to blame for destructive weather, he said.

"Global warming is taking place. It is a reality. However, we do not know how much it is already impacting floods and drought. But there are some indications and it gives you some signals, and we have to be careful about (the climate change)," Singh said.

By contrast, Afghanistan's food insecurity stemmed mainly from the man-made problem of civil war, he said.

NORTH KOREA NEEDS MORE HELP

Unfavourable weather had hit North Korean grain production, Singh said. Pyongyang's grain production in the 2000/01 year is forecast at around 2.92 million tonnes, while its domestic grain demand is estimated at 4.79 million tonnes.

Commercial imports were expected to cover 200,000 tonnes, and an additional 500,000 tonnes was expected in the form of bilateral concession imports, he said.

"Taking these into account the uncovered import requirement is estimated at 1.17 million tonnes. The country still needs assistance to meet minimum food needs," Singh told Reuters.

"They have suffered from the devastation of drought, also severe cold...as well as the lack of fertilisers, fuel, electricity."

Singh said as much as half of North Korea's population of 22 million lived in hunger, according to 1997 FAO estimates.

The number would not change considerably in 2000, because of a combination of factors like drought at critical stages in the crop cycle and the cumulative effect of underlying problems in agriculture, Singh added.

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