ROME (Reuters) - High food prices have pushed another 105 million people into hunger in the first half of 2009, the head of the U.N. World Food Programme said on Friday, raising the total number of hungry people to over 1 billion.
Urging rich nations at a meeting of G8 development ministers not to cut back on aid, Josette Sheeran said the world faced a human catastrophe as more people struggle to eat a decent meal.
“This year we are clocking in on average four million new hungry people a week, urgently hungry,” Sheeran told Reuters.
“For the first six months of this year, 105 million people have been added,” she said, citing figures to be released by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization next week that will raise the total number of undernourished people to over 1 billion.
In 2008, FAO said the world’s hungry numbered 963 million.
The WFP needs $6.4 billion this year for food aid, but donors’ contributions have fallen way behind that level — it had around $1.5 billion at the end of last week.
The agency says it has had to cut food aid rations and shut some operations in eastern Africa and North Korea because of the credit crunch.
“I know it seems a big figure, but if you compare it with the global stimulus package, it means that for less than 1 percent of that we could help meet the urgent human crisis that is unfolding, and that is just as essential to the stability of the world,” Sheeran said.
She said despite a decline in most food prices from record peaks last year, they remained high in developing countries, while global food aid was at a 20-year low.
The financial crisis has made things worse, and in terms of staple food, people in poorer countries today can only afford about a third of what they could afford three years ago.
In a statement after a two-day meeting in Rome, G8 ministers reaffirmed their commitment to honor existing aid promises and the head of USAID said President Barack Obama wanted to double U.S. aid funds to $52 billion by 2015.
“(This) sends a signal, I think, to the rest of the world that we cannot pull back on our support,” USAID Acting Administrator Alonzo Fulgham told Reuters.
But a report this week said the G8 was collectively off course in delivering on a pledge — made at a G8 summit in Scotland in 2005 — to more than double aid to Africa to $25 billion a year by 2010.
The report, by anti-poverty body ONE, was particularly critical of Italy, saying Rome was trailing far behind other nations in meeting aid targets and that undermined its credibility as G8 president this year.
“We have confirmed our commitment to find the resources this year to bring us back on track and fulfill our undertakings,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told reporters on Friday, responding to the report.
ONE said Italy had delivered only three percent of the aid increase to Africa pledged by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi four years ago.
Editing by Janet Lawrence