Fewer people live in poverty, but more are hungry, UN says

GENEVA, Switzerland, June 27 -- People who live in poverty are not necessarily living in chronic hunger. Statistics for people living in both circumstances are changing, according to a United Nations report released last week.

“Poverty is steadily declining over the last decade, but hunger is increasing over the last decade, except for 2010,” said Jomo Kwame Sundaram, assistant secretary general for economic development at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

“This brings up questions," Sundaram said. "What are we actually measuring?”

The United Nations is measuring the number of people living on $1.25 a day or less, but not necessarily how many of these people are using that money for food.

In 2005, the World Bank changed the international poverty line from people who subsist on $1 a day or less to $1.25 a day or less. According to that organization, there are about 1.3 billion people in developing countries who live in poverty. But that number is going down.

According to the World Health Organization, there are about 925 million hungry people in the world. That's one in seven people, and that number is going up.

Experts are asking, if more people are hungry, why are fewer people ranked as impoverished?

“Poverty is principally defined as what it takes to keep from being hungry, so there is a large problem with the measurement taking place,” Sundaram said. “This is a problem for those of us in statistics.”

The numbers show improvements in some areas, but more changes need to be made, Sundaram said.

“That more than 1 billion people still subsist on less than $1 a day is indicative of the enormous challenges for the world, and the international system needs to provide assistance on the basis of long-term development plans developed by poor countries,” said Mohammed I. Haidara, a U.N. delegate from Nigeria, in the discussion on extreme poverty in the Human Rights Council.

Maria Magdalena Supeulveda Carmona, an independent expert on human rights and poverty, argued that the poor have a human right to assistance.

“Investing in the protection of the poor is not a choice or an act of charity. It is a human rights obligation,” she said.