Hunger in Latin America and Caribbean at highest point in two decades

Annual assessment finds 64 million people suffer from extreme hunger, caused by factors such as drought and rising food prices

Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean is at its highest point in two decades, the UN said on Monday, after more than two-thirds of the 15 signatory countries in the region recorded increased rates of malnutrition in 2015.

In a report analysing a report on Latin America and the Caribbean’s economic health and released by the World Bank last month, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said there were 64 million people across the region living in extreme hunger, which has increased from 49 million in 2014.

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The number of people living under food poverty, defined as having less than 2,770 US dollars ($3,290) in annual income, increased by 70,000 people last year to 200,000. It has risen from about 80,000 in 2012, according to the report.

What caused the increase? According to FAO, it was largely down to droughts and animal protein prices, while Venezuela’s plunging oil prices had a knock-on effect on its crops.

“The stark picture of extreme hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean is that hunger is not an issue of habit or relationship between income, employment and wealth, it is a dramatic manifestation of the absence of sustainable food systems,” José Graziano da Silva, FAO director general, said in a statement.

According to the report, half of the region’s estimated 219 million undernourished people live in eight countries: Bolivia, the Central American countries of Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and the Dominican Republic, as well as Haiti.

Latin America and the Caribbean continues to perform poorly on almost all fronts, including health and well-being and education indicators, according to FAO, which said its latest regional economic study showed “stark contrasts” between rich and poor countries.

The middle-income countries have experienced “very strong economic growth” in recent years, FAO said, but lower middle-income countries have stagnated.

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