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Financial Crisis Eases But Leaves Hunger Legacy

Chinese shareholders watch the big screen showing the price of stocks in Shanghai.

(Copyright:  AFP Photo: Zhou Junxiang)

A year after the start of a crisis that rocked the global financial system, there are signs in the developed world that the economy is recovering. But elsewhere the crisis has left a "hunger legacy" which will not go away any time soon.

ROME -- It’s hard to believe that a full year has passed since the world declared itself in “financial crisis” following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and the Dow Jones Industrial Stock Index.

In New York and Washington, there’s a whiff of hope for recovery, as housing sales begin to climb, and gasoline and grocery prices stabilize. In the developing world, however, the situation remains grave for the one billion hungry who are growing hungrier every day.

The crisis that, for most people in wealthy countries, meant their retirement savings were halved, or that they couldn’t eat out as often, has meant something more fundamental in the developing world:  a push from poverty into abject poverty and hunger.

Asset depletion

What was belt-tightening in the developed world was complete and total asset depletion in the world’s most difficult places.  As remittances dried up, foreign investment tapered, and export economies collapsed, families have had to pull their children out of school or sell their goats – cutting off their only access to food security.

Meanwhile, back in the developed world, things are starting to move. New house sales in the United States were up almost 10% in July from June while the homebuilding sector has jumped 46 percent in 2009 – one of the best performing sectors in the US economy.  Meanwhile, Industrial orders rose in the euro zone in June, suggesting that the manufacturing sector may be emerging from recession. France and Germany both emerged from year-long recessions in the second quarter of the year.

Crunch time

Not so in Guatemala, or Bangladesh or Malawi, where the climb out of the depths of abject poverty will be painfully slow and in some cases impossible. And for WFP, with only half of our annual budget funded, the challenges of responding to drought in Kenya or floods in West Africa will be even more challenging.

Now is crunch time. Hunger has a new historic high and there is no sign of that abating.

It turns out to be surprisingly hard to keep hunger on the map when our own grocery store bills aren’t ballooning.   But the stakes are high if we don’t:  When children are malnourished, their minds and bodies suffer.  When adults are hungry, they migrate, fight or die.

For now, the economic crisis appears to be abating.  Not so, the hunger crisis.