FEATURE-How do you count the world's hungry people?

Wed May 2, 2012 10:00am GMT

By Megan Rowling

LONDON, May 2 (AlertNet) - Two years ago, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched a petition to fight hunger with the slogan: "1,000,000,000 people live in chronic hunger and I'm mad as hell."

Since then, more than 3.4 million people, including actors, pop stars and footballers, have added their voices to the online campaign calling on governments to make the elimination of hunger their top priority.

But outrage over the "horrifying figure" of 1 billion hungry people around the world, as it was described by former FAO head Jacques Diouf, has turned to embarrassment in some quarters in light of growing doubts about the accuracy of the number.

Many researchers say the estimate was simply too high.

"The fact that it's 1 billion is a much better story, and that's why it stays in people's minds," said Richard King, a food policy expert with Oxfam. "It's a great number."

The controversy led the Committee on World Food Security, a top-level U.N. forum, to urge the FAO to overhaul its calculations using better data and methodology and to call for a set of internationally agreed food-security indicators.

The first fruits are due in October when a new estimate of the number of undernourished people will be published along with revisions for previous years as part of the FAO's annual report on food insecurity.

The figures will incorporate fresher data on world food supplies and more timely and comprehensive household consumption surveys from different countries, said Carlo Cafiero, a senior FAO statistician.   Continued...

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