Recession adds 6 percent to ranks of global poor: U.N.

GENEVA (Reuters) - Economic recession has reversed a 20-year decline in world poverty and is likely to add up to 90 million to the ranks of the hungry in 2009, an increase of six per cent over current totals, the United Nations said on Monday.

In this file photo a disabled Haitian man chops wood next to his family in the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic at the side of Belladere April 28, 2009. The global recession has pushed up to 90 million more people into extreme poverty, the United Nations said on Monday, warning that a reduction in foreign aid could cause more hunger and disease. REUTERS/ Eduardo Munoz

The estimate, in a gloomy report on a decade-old U.N. program to set poor countries on the road to solid development by 2015, suggests 17 per cent of the world’s 6.8 billion people will be classed extremely poor by the end of this year.

“In 2009, an estimated 55 to 90 million more people will be living in extreme poverty than anticipated before the crisis,” declared the report, launched in Geneva by U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon.

And the study, “The Millennium Development Goals Report,” also warned that a recent decline in foreign aid -- despite pledges from rich powers to increase fund flows -- was likely to bring more disease and social disruption in the South.

In a speech to the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Ban appealed to the Group of Eight industrial nations to step up aid, especially to Africa, over the next year, saying their previous pledges had fallen short.

“I urge the G8 to set out, country by country, how donors will scale up aid to Africa over the next year,” Ban said in a speech aimed at the July 8-10 gathering in the central Italian city of L’Aquila which he will be attending.

“The credibility of the international system depends on whether donors deliver,” he added. “Human decency and global solidarity demand that we pull together for the poorest and the most vulnerable among us,” Ban told another session later.

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G8 leaders, at a summit in Scotland in 2005, pledged to raise development assistance by $50 billion by 2010, half of that for Africa. But aid remains at least $20 billion below the target set out at Gleneagles, he said.

Aid can help transform lives, but delays in its delivery, combined with the financial crisis and climate change, are slowing progress, Ban told ECOSOC at the start of a three-week meeting in Geneva.

People living in poverty -- defined by the U.N. as those living on less than $1.25 a day -- have already suffered most from the economic and financial crisis rippling around the globe for nearly two years, the report said.

“The numbers of people going hungry and living in extreme poverty are much larger than they would have been had progress continued uninterrupted,” Ban said in a foreword, although the full impact of recession was not yet known, he added.

According to U.N. figures, in 1990 the proportion of hungry people among the world population was 20 percent, but by 2005 it had declined to 16 percent -- reflecting a rise in prosperity, especially in Asia, driven by booming world trade.

The reversal began in 2008, partly due to rising world food prices, the report said, and although the cost of basic products had begun to drop again toward the end of last year that had not made food more affordable for most people around the world.

In the report, Ban said it was important to continue programs for improving maternal and infant survival rates and tackling hunger and malnutrition in the young, estimating that in poorer countries over a quarter of children are underweight.

Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Laura MacInnis; Editing by Jon Boyle