WASHINGTON - Nations worldwide are falling short of the hunger and poverty targets adopted at the start of the millennium, and as a result millions are suffering needlessly, warns a report released ahead of next week's UN summit to measure progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.
The report from the humanitarian group CARE International criticizes wealthy countries for not coming through on their pledges of aid, or sending the aid too late to make a difference. It also points out that the recent spike in food prices worldwide has shifted the goalposts for ending poverty and hunger.
The first of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG 1) agreed to by world leaders at the beginning of 2000 is to cut poverty and hunger in half by 2015. But both the United Nations and CARE agree that despite some progress, by this year's mid-way point the goal is in danger of not being met.
Of particular concern are the economic slowdown and food emergency that began to be felt in 2007. On average globally, food costs rose by 83 percent over the past three years, causing poor families to eat less and remove children from school to work or beg, and provoking numerous food riots, according to the CARE report.
In his introduction to the UN's 2008 MDG Report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon acknowledges that the economic slowdown and food crisis are of "uncertain magnitude and duration," and will "push millions more into poverty."
Since the poor spend close to 80 percent of their income on food, rising food costs combined with stagnant economic growth in many countries inevitably set back progress on MDG 1.
CARE's report, entitled "Living on the Edge of Emergency: Paying the Price of Inaction" found that some 220 million people are "on the edge of emergency" in 2008, almost twice as many as in 2006.
That year CARE prepared a similar report, urging international agencies and donors to focus on poverty prevention by funding disaster preparedness, strengthening livelihoods, and building the resilience of the poor to cope with emergencies.
For the most part, aid patterns remained unchanged however, and two years later Geoffrey Dennis, director of CARE International notes angrily: "The world's inaction on food emergencies has proved costly and it is the world's poorest people -- stripped of enough to eat -- who are paying the price."
"It is a disgrace that, despite warnings, money is still being spent in the wrong ways," Dennis added.
CARE makes three main recommendations to governments and aid agencies seeking to turn the situation around:
Meet existing aid commitments, and then commit new funds because 100 million more people are now hungry;
Support food production and the provision of long-term social safety nets;
Do a better job of coordinating emergency aid and traditional development assistance, and make sure funds are provided in a timely manner.
The UN report also calls for "greater financial commitment" on the part of developed countries and urges them to meet pledges already made.
If economic progress does not increase in developing countries and food prices remain high, then progress to date would "no longer be a good indicator of future prospects" for achieving the antipoverty and hunger goals, warns Sha Zu-Kang, UN Under-Secretary for Social and Economic Affairs.
One factor not mentioned by either report is the economic slowdown now materializing in the United States, which is likely to impact every country of the world and may place serious constraints on the ability and willingness of wealthier countries to increase overseas aid.