Meditation Focus #100

Mobilizing the World to Stop The Spread of AIDS and Hunger


What follows is the 100th Meditation Focus suggested for the two consecutive weeks beginning Sunday, November 30, 2003.


1. Summary
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"A tragedy of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Africa. Aids today in Africa is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines and floods and the ravages of such deadly diseases as Malaria. We must act now for the sake of the world. Aids is no longer a disease it is a human rights issue."

- Nelson Mandela – International AIDS Conference – Paris - Taken from


Just a few hours after the end of an AIDS benefit concert hosted by former South African President Nelson Mandela - more details below - and as the world has just been reminded by two recent UN reports of the growing global AIDS epidemic and hunger crisis that expand mostly under the radar screen of our day-to-day concerns, it is appropriate to once again bring into sharp focus during our meditations the urgent need to mobilize everyone's goodwill and compassion to help stop the spread of these global pandemics.

Deaths and new cases of HIV/Aids reached records in 2003 and are set to rise further as the epidemic rages through sub-Saharan Africa and advances across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. New global estimates show about 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV/Aids, including an estimated 2.5 million children under 15 years old. About five million people were infected in 2003 and more than three million died. According to Dr Peter Piot, head of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids) "The Aids epidemic continues to expand - we haven't reached the limit yet. More people have become infected this year than ever before and more people have died from Aids than ever before. It is the first cause of death in Africa and the fourth cause of death worldwide." Governments everywhere should look at Africa and tremble. In some countries, more than half the population will die of AIDS. All of Africa's famines are now AIDS-related: hungry people lack the strength to fight off sickness, sick people lack the strength to grow food, and dead parents cannot teach their children how to farm. It is easy for people in the First World to forget the scale of the ravages of Aids - which has killed some 25 million people in the poor world. In this decade it will claim more lives than all the world's wars and disasters of the past half- century. Aids takes a terrible economic toll; it kills off farmers in their prime and leaves behind young orphans and aged parents - mouths with no one to feed them.

As for the global hunger crisis, more than 840 million people, one out of every seven people on Earth, will go to sleep tonight gnawed by hunger. That was not supposed to happen following a 1996 UN conference where the world's richest countries vowed to halve the number of the world's malnourished by 2015. However, a report published on 25 November by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concludes that goal is now unattainable by the original deadline. The report finds the number of hungry people actually increased by 18 million in the second half of the 1990s. Most of those who are malnourished are from the Third World, Africa and Asia. But 34 million live in the former communist countries of Central Europe and the former Soviet Union. "Bluntly stated," the report concludes, "the problem is not so much a lack of food as a lack of political will".

Please dedicate your prayers and meditations, as guided by Spirit, in the coming two weeks, and especially in synchronous attunement at the usual time this Sunday and the following one, to contribute in fostering in everyone's minds and hearts the will to rededicate ourselves to alleviate the endless sufferings of millions of our brothers and sisters around the world and especially in Africa. May we never allow ourselves to ignore the urgent pleas for assistance arising from the harrowed souls of our fellow travelers in this planetary field of experience and learning, so we may truly know the meaning and value of human solidarity, unconditional Love and unreserved compassion in the hours of greatest needs so many of our family members face, with precious little hope and succor to cope with these very difficult circumstances. Let us imagine what would be our thoughts and feelings if we were enduring similar tribulations, every minute or every day of our lives, and let us infuse the global consciousness of humanity with the pressing need to take the actions required by these crises and support those who can best assist them, for the Highest Good of All.

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Aids epidemic reaches record level around the globe


LONDON - Deaths and new cases of HIV/Aids reached records in 2003 and are set to rise further as the epidemic rages through sub-Saharan Africa and advances across Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

New global estimates released yesterday show about 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV/Aids, including an estimated 2.5 million children under 15 years old. About five million people were infected in 2003 and more than three million died.

"The Aids epidemic continues to expand - we haven't reached the limit yet," said Dr Peter Piot, head of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids).

"More people have become infected this year than ever before and more people have died from Aids than ever before," he said. "It is the first cause of death in Africa and the fourth cause of death worldwide."

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst affected region with about 3.2 million new infections and 2.3 million deaths in 2003. Southern Africa is home to about 30 per cent of people living with HIV/Aids worldwide, yet the region has less than 2 per cent of the global population.

In Botswana and Swaziland the infection rate of HIV/Aids among adults is 40 per cent. One in five pregnant women in some African countries is infected with the virus, which is more easily transmitted from men to women.

Piot said the epidemic, fuelled by intravenous drug use and unsafe sex, was spreading in densely populated India and China as well as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and in Eastern Europe where the worst affected areas include the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia.

And he predicted it could be years before the back of the epidemic was broken in terms of new infections.

"The burden of the HIV epidemic will become bigger and bigger over time because it takes, on average, seven to 10 years after infection before you fall ill and, if there is no treatment, before you die," he said.

"In other words, even if by some miracle all transmission of HIV stopped, people would still become ill. We are only at the beginning of the impact of Aids, certainly in Africa."

The "Aids Epidemic Update: December 2003" report also provides hope, Piot said.

In several East African cities fewer people were infected this year than five years ago - so prevention can work. There is also more money than ever being spent on Aids.

"Thirdly, there is also a momentum on treatment, even if today only 75,000 Africans - less than one out of 50 who need it - are treated with effective therapy. There is now movement to roll out this treatment on a very large scale," he said.

In a major boost to combat the epidemic, South Africa will provide free antiretroviral drugs to hundreds of thousands of infected people.

"This is of historic significance, not only for South Africa but also for the rest of Africa because others I'm sure will follow," said Piot.

"We are entering a new phase in the fight against Aids and a time of great opportunities.

"We need to be as passionate about making sure our children do not become infected with HIV as about treating people who are already infected today."



Mandela Hosts Star-Studded AIDS Benefit

By ELLIOTT SYLVESTER Associated Press Writer

November 29, 2003,

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Beyonce Knowles, Bono, Peter Gabriel and other musicians from around the world took to the stage Saturday for an AIDS benefit concert hosted by former South African President Nelson Mandela.

More than 30,000 people, among them Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson, filled Cape Town's Greenpoint Stadium for the show, part of Mandela's 46664 campaign to fight AIDS, named after his number when he was imprisoned for his fight against apartheid.

With a massive bronzed image of his face as a backdrop, Mandela came on stage dressed in a black shirt with the number emblazoned across his chest.

"For the 18 years that I was in prison on Robben Island I was supposed to be reduced to that number," Mandela said. "Millions infected with HIV/AIDS are in danger of being reduced to mere numbers if we don't act now. They are serving a prison sentence for life."

The concert -- broadcast live by the South African Broadcasting Corporation's Africa channel and on the internet -- is part of an appeal to governments to declare a global AIDS emergency.

Between 34 million and 46 million people around the world are infected with HIV, including 5.3 million South Africans -- more than in any other country, according to U.N. figures. The pandemic killed more than 3 million people this year.

The musicians, including the Corrs, Anastacia and Annie Lennox, performed free.

Gabriel and the Soweto Gospel Choir stilled the crowd when they performed "Biko," a tribute to slain anti-apartheid icon Steve Biko.

Brian May from the group Queen performed the song "46664," featuring Mandela's voice saying: "The struggle is my life. I will continue to fight.

Messages from former President Clinton and civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson were broadcast on a screen at the back of the stage.

Earlier, Bono and Beyonce visited a maternity unit and a childrens' home caring for HIV victims in Cape Town's impoverished township, Khayelitsha.

Bono said he was incensed by the suffering of thousands of Africans who do not have access to life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs.

"This is an obscenity," he said. "This is like watching the Jews being put on trains."

The 46664 campaign, conceived by Dave Stewart, was put into place in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, as well as May and Roger Taylor of Queen.

The concert will be screened globally by MTV on World Aids Day on Monday. Proceeds are going to the foundation, whose work includes funding research on HIV and AIDS in South Africa and supporting services for sufferers.



Beyonce and Bono lead Aids show (Nov 29)

Beyonce Knowles and Bono were among global stars who performed at Nelson Mandela's South Africa gig to boost the fight against Aids.

The five-hour charity show, at the Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town was broadcast on the web.

The duo sang American Prayer, accompanied on the guitar by U2's The Edge and Eurythmics' Dave Stewart.

The show, organised by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, also featured Eurythmics, The Corrs and Queen.

Bono said his song with Beyonce was about asking "churches to open their doors, to give sanctuary that breaks the stigma that goes with being HIV positive".

He added: "If God loves you, what's the problem?"

He then brought former South African President Mr Mandela onto the stage, prompting the biggest cheer of the evening.

Mr Mandela, 85, who watched the show alongside his wife Graca Machel and US TV presenter Oprah Winfrey, has said Aids is a bigger challenge than apartheid.

In South Africa there are more people living with HIV/Aids than anywhere else in the world, and globally the number of those infected is now more than 42 million.

"Aids is no longer just a disease. It is a human rights issue. 46664 was my prison number for the 18 years that I was imprisoned on Robben Island. I was supposed to be reduced to that number."

He added that "millions of people infected with HIV and Aids are in danger of being reduced to mere numbers unless we act. They too are serving a prison sentence for life so I have allowed my prison number to help drive this campaign".

Thousands of music fans lined the stage for the outdoor show, which featured a huge sculpture of Mr Mandela's head.

Bob Geldof, who was knighted for his work to overcome famine in Africa with the Live Aid show in the 80s, also sang and spoke to the crowds.

"Aids has ceased to be something to be ashamed of - it's just another medical condition, but if the condition is medical the solution is political. And that's what we're here to reinforce today," he said.

The overall aim for the show was to make it the most widely distributed and broadcast programme on HIV/Aids ever, reaching a global TV, radio and online audience of about two billion.

It could be viewed for free on the campaign's website at and each song performed is downloadable online for 69p. CLIP

See also:

See the BBC News video report on this concert and hear Mandela speaks at

A Wonderful Show (November 29, 2003)
The show is now over but fans were treated to 5 hours of breathtaking performances from all the artists involved and a moving speech from Nelson Mandela. Make sure you check back at for more exclusive footage and pictures as well as all the info you need on further web and TV broadcasts from Monday, plus how you can Give 1 Minute of Your Life To Aids.

Full Coverage on Africa AIDS Epidemic



Help at last

November 27, 2003

Yet, despite better efforts at home and from abroad, the worst death toll from AIDS still lies ahead

A DECADE and a half ago, informed South Africans were fretting about AIDS. Fewer than 2% of their compatriots were then infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, but epidemiologists looked at the way AIDS was devastating the rest of Africa, and figured that South Africa was probably next. One of them, Alan Whiteside, predicted in 1990 that by 2001, more than a million South Africans would have the disease. Neither the apartheid regime nor the democratic government that replaced it took such warnings seriously. As late as 1998, when a fifth of South African adults were infected, not one billboard in Johannesburg alerted passers-by to the dangers of unprotected sex. Because no one heeded the prophets of doom, their predictions came true, and then some. Today, South Africa has more HIV positive citizens than any other country: 5.3m, out of a population of 45m.

As this example illustrates, delay can spell disaster when dealing with AIDS. By the gloomiest recent projection, South Africa is heading for an economic collapse within three generations, as wage-earners are wiped out and parents die before they can teach their offspring the basics of how to get on in life. Thankfully, the chance of this awful scenario coming to pass was reduced last week, when the South African government unveiled a serious, well-funded and long-term plan for treating its sick citizens with anti-retroviral drugs. If the plan is competently implemented, HIV positive parents should survive long enough to put their children through school, and South Africa should pull back from the brink of catastrophe.

Finally, more money

The rest of the world is also starting, at last, to take AIDS seriously (see article). Much more cash has been made available to fight the disease. Donors and developing-country governments between them stumped up $4.7 billion this year—23 times the total in 1996. More is needed: UNAIDS, the UN body that monitors the pandemic, wants to see $10 billion spent in 2005 and $15 billion in 2007.

Some of this money will be found: most donors have promised to chip in, and a few forward-thinking private companies have started to treat their infected workers. At least as important as the sum raised is the question of how it is spent. The good news is that an increasing number of poor countries have devised plausible national plans for tackling the disease. The bad news is that some donors, particularly the largest, America, attach too many strings to their gifts. The Bush administration withholds family-planning money from groups that “promote” abortion. This causes needless trouble for reproductive-health organisations, whose contribution is essential to combat AIDS. Mr Bush is also hesitant to fund some multilateral initiatives, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This is a shame: the Fund is good at finding out what recipient countries need, and distributes cash efficiently. If donors all gave bilaterally, recipients would have to waste time jumping through multiple hoops.

The price of AIDS drugs has plummeted by more than 95% in the past few years. Until recently, it was taken for granted that HIV positive poor people were doomed, and that everyone should concentrate on persuading those who were not yet infected to shun risky sex. Now, the talk is of how quickly drugs can be distributed to all who need them. This is wonderful, but there are snags.

First, distributing drugs in Africa, where the need is greatest, will be difficult, as the continent's health-care infrastructure is appalling. Second, although middle-income countries such as South Africa, Botswana and Brazil can fund their own drug programmes, the poorest cannot. As donors step into the breach, these countries will grow worryingly dependent—a cut in aid could mean mass death and, perhaps, civil unrest. Finally, when resistance develops to today's pills—as it surely will—new ones will be needed. This is where drug firms normally come in. The trouble is that the recent price reductions were achieved through an aggressive campaign by activists promoting generic copies of patented pills. This has reduced corporate incentives to invent new AIDS medicines.

For those who will be helped

None of these problems is insuperable. Understaffed health systems can be pepped up by, for example, getting nurses to do tasks that doctors usually would, and training a few people in each village to show others how to take their pills. Aid dependency might matter less if donors could make long-term commitments, and offer more debt relief. To ensure that new drugs are developed, it is essential to preserve drug firms' patent rights in rich countries, so that they can recoup their vast investment. To develop drugs appropriate for the world's poorest victims, public money for drug research is needed too.

Since HIV was first discovered in the early 1980s, the epidemic has mutated. At first, the stereotypical sufferer was wealthy, white and gay. Now, the largest group is of African women. Ten years from now, who knows? Epidemics can explode suddenly. The UN frets that several countries may be sleepwalking into calamity. Russia, for example, has a big and growing problem but cannot even get round to testing people properly. There are also worrying signs of complacency in the world's two most populous countries. In some high-risk groups in India HIV prevalence is as high as 5%, and China has pockets of high infection, too. Almost everywhere, the stigma of AIDS, besides prompting people to mistreat its victims, also deters them from getting tested, and deters capable and respected figures from joining the struggle to curb the disease.

Governments everywhere should look at Africa and tremble. In some countries, more than half the population will still die of AIDS. All of Africa's famines are now AIDS-related: hungry people lack the strength to fight off sickness, sick people lack the strength to grow food, and dead parents cannot teach their children how to farm. Other regions can avoid this, but they must act now. The rewards will come slowly; it will be years before current investments make a dent in HIV prevalence, let alone the death rate. The worst is yet to come.



How the World is Getting Hungrier Each Year

By Paul Vallely Independent UK

26 November 2003

'War on hunger' is being lost as drought and natural disasters continue to exact a terrible toll in some of the world's poorest nations

I have never forgotten my first experience of ordinary life in an African village. I had been in Ethiopia, covering the terrible famine of 1985, with its haunted lines of starving, blank-eyed faces, sitting waiting for death. But I had not been to an ordinary village.

Not long after, I travelled to Sudan where drought had also shrivelled the land. Halfway to the famine area our four-wheel- drive stopped to refuel. There by the roadside in the parched scrub was a dusty straw-thatched hut. Outside a family was huddled around a meagre fire made from a handful of sticks. The children had swollen bellies and thin limbs. The mother was cooking a single piece of flat bread which was the entire meal for the whole family. "Why didn't you tell me we were in the famine area already," I said to my guide.

He laughed. "That's not famine," he chided. "That's just ordinary life in Africa. Being hungry is normal."

The world is getting hungrier, according to a report issued by the United Nations food agency yesterday. After a decade of improvements for the planet's poor, things have taken a serious turn for the worst. Hunger, which fell steadily throughout the first half of the 1990s, is on the rise again.

Across the world an estimated 842 million people are today undernourished - and that figure is again climbing, with an additional 5 million hungry people every year. The figures, says the report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) "signal a setback in the war on hunger". The prospect of cutting by half the number of people who go hungry - the target set by the world's governments in 1996 - looks "increasingly remote".

The shocking thing about this is that, in the world of the politics of aid, at any rate, nobody is shocked.

The report tries to put on a brave face. "First some good news," it begins, reporting that the number of chronically hungry people has declined by 80 million in 19 countries, including Brazil, Chad, Guinea, Namibia and Sri Lanka.

So why is the picture so grim everywhere else? The number of those going hungry in India has risen by 19 million since 1995-97, and yet China has reduced its figure by 58 million since 1990-92. "We must ask ourselves why this has happened," says the FAO director-general, Jacques Diouf, in his introduction.

Those who have bucked the trend share five characteristics, he concludes - faster economic growth, rapid expansion in the agricultural sector, slower population growth, lower rates of HIV infection and far fewer natural emergencies.

"The role of capital is decisive," said Hartwig de Haen, assistant director of the FAO's economic and social department in Washington. "Investment in agriculture is a precondition for growth in incomes of the poor and the food supply," he said.

Yet such investment has been declining. Rich countries must put more cash into the agriculture sectors of poor countries. It must, he said, "go back to the level where it was in the early Nineties".

If only it were so simple. The truth is that the 19 nations who have bucked the trend have not been the authors of their own good fortune.

They have been lucky not to have experienced the high levels of droughts and natural disasters that have increasingly afflicted the Third World over the past decade.

Nor have domestic politics had much influence over rates of population growth, which tend to be determined fairly directly by levels of poverty - the worse things are, the more children you need to look after you in your old age.

Nor have many poor nations been able to manage their Aids epidemics in the way the rich world has with its new drug regimes. It is easy for us in the First World to forget the scale of the ravages of Aids - which has killed some 25 million people in the poor world. In this decade it will claim more lives than all the world's wars and disasters of the past half- century. Aids takes a terrible economic toll; it kills off farmers in their prime and leaves behind young orphans and aged parents - mouths with no one to feed them.

Neither is it a coincidence that those countries most dependent on agriculture are those with the most hunger. Increasing the amounts of flowers and strawberries grown for export near Third World airports may help the balance of payments, but it does little for pastoral and subsistence agriculture in remoter rural areas. The economics of globalisation are that the very poorest get poorer still. There are some places to which wealth just never trickles down.

There is gloomy evidence of this in the report. "At least half the higher prices received for exports went not to farmers but traders," it notes, "and there was no increase in production in response to the higher prices". Worst still, it adds, "prices are expected to rise more steeply for food products that developing countries import than for the commodities they export.

"Overall," it predicts, "the lion's share of benefits from trade liberalisation is expected to go to developed countries."

This will surprise no one. The report repeats the familiar statistic that the West spends 30 times more on domestic farming subsidies than it does on aid. It catalogues how the US spends $3.9bn (£2.3bn) a year subsidising its 25,000 cotton farmers - more than the entire GDP for Burkina Faso where 2 million people depend on cotton for their livelihood. Europe is now the world's second- largest sugar exporter even though EU sugar costs twice as much to produce as does that of Third World peasants.

Yet the harsh truth is - as the failure of the World Trade Organisation round in Cancun brutally showed - the industrialised world has abandoned any pretence that trade negotiations are anything to do with development.

Set against the scale of such large problems and political intransigence, the triumphs the report charts are small by comparison.

In Brazil, President Lula da Silva has launched a Zero Hunger project, with electronic cash cards for needy families and subsidised food in schools, workplaces and "people's restaurants", all linked to work and literacy incentives. In Vietnam great steps forward have been taken through nutrition education with poor families being schooled in a "coloured bowl" to encourage the right mix of rice, vegetables, meat and fish. But in much of Africa and Latin America the wherewithal is not there for such schemes. It is there that the vast majority of those 842 million people go to bed hungry at night - though interestingly 34 million of them are in the former Soviet Union countries, and 10 million even in the rich industrialised world.

Halving hunger was not the only Millennium Development Goal agreed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1992. There were also to be swingeing attacks on child mortality, illiteracy and education discrimination against girls. There were targets on aid levels, environmental sustainability and creating greater access to world markets for the products of the poorest countries. On most of these the rich world's promises are slipping too.

"Bluntly stated," the report concludes, "the problem is not so much a lack of food as a lack of political will". Bluntly stated, the problem is that none of us really cares.

An undernourished planet

Three Improving Countries

Brazil Luiz Lula da Silva, the President, pledged to eradicate hunger by the end of his four-year term. The number of undernourished Brazilians has fallen from 12 per cent in 1990 to 9 per cent in 2000, thanks to food aid, more jobs and higher income from food production.

Bangladesh Cyclone-plagued, flood-drenched, over-populated and penniless, Bangladesh was the international byword for disaster. But now, with higher remittances frommanual workers in the Gulf and a booming garments industry, growth of more than 5 per cent is forecast next year.

Vietnam In the past 20 years Vietnam has achieved what the UN calls "remarkable" success. In 1979 a third of the population was undernourished; now it is about one fifth. One of the biggest factors has been a national programme encouraging families to grow vegetables and fruit, combined with education on balanced meals.

Three Declining Countries

Guatemala A combination of a weak economy perpetuated by years of political instability, a series of natural disasters, including hurricanes and droughts, and the belief among donors that poverty in Central America is not as bad as in Africa or Asia has left Guatemalans growing hungrier.

India India reduced the number of malnourished people by 20 million from 1990-92 and 1995-97, but the number subsequently rose by 19 million. Population growth and unemployment often offset well-intentioned government programmes. Half of all children in India under four are malnourished.

North Korea Struggling to recover from a famine in the mid-1990s caused by natural disasters and mismanagement. In 1990-92 18 per cent of the population was malnourished. By 2001 it was 34 per cent. About 6.5 million people will depend on aid to survive next year.



Over 800 million go hungry

25 November 2003

Hundreds of millions of people are starving across the world and the number is set to rise, warns a new UN report.

The UN document, titled State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003 and compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, (FAO) calls on the international community to address the "setback in the war against hunger".

Having reduced the number of hungry in developing countries by 37 million during the first half of the 1990s, the numbers increased again by 18 million in the second half of the decade, the report said.

FAO director general Jacques Diouf likened the 798 million people who constitute the poor in developing countries to a "starving continent" bigger than Latin America "which goes unnoticed unless the world's compassion is momentarily captured by war or natural disaster."

Diouf went on to say that there was enough food to eradicate hunger. "The problem is not so much the lack of food but the absence of a real political will."

International trade

The FAO report puts the number of global hungry at 842 million people, citing the most recent available figures, from 1999-2001. It said 10 million were in industrialised countries, 34 million in countries in transition and 798 million in developing countries.

The report focuses on the importance of agriculture and agricultural trade in developing countries as a means of eradicating hunger.

"International trade can have a major impact on reducing hunger and poverty in developing countries. Overall, countries that are involved in trade tend to enjoy higher rates of economic growth," said Diouf.

The UN food agency highlighted progress in Latin America the Caribbean, and China, among 19 countries which succeeded in reducing the number of hungry throughout the 1990s.



UN: Despite Pledges, Report Finds More People Going Hungry

By Askold Krushelnycky

A United Nations report published this week says more people than ever are going hungry, despite pledges to reduce by half the number of the world's malnourished by 2015. The UN report says that noble ambition is probably now unattainable.

Prague, 28 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- More than 840 million people, one out of every seven people on Earth, will go to sleep tonight gnawed by hunger.

That was not supposed to happen following a 1996 UN conference where the world's richest countries vowed to halve the number of the world's malnourished by 2015. However, a report published on 25 November by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concludes that goal is now unattainable by the original deadline.

The report finds the number of hungry people actually increased by 18 million in the second half of the 1990s. Most of those who are malnourished are from the Third World, Africa and Asia. But 34 million live in the former communist countries of Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.

FAO spokesman John Riddle says someone who is malnourished does not have enough caloric intake to expend the energy necessary for a normal productive life. He said malnourishment can lead to death but that it is difficult to measure how many deaths it causes directly.

"They can die from undernourishment, but generally they die from other things caused by the fact that they weren't healthy enough to fight off those other things. So they get sick or they get an infection or something along these lines, and they're not really well fed enough to deal with it," Riddle said.

The FAO's first analysis of the changes that have occurred since the breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia shows that hunger is increasing in many of the countries in transition. Overall, the number of malnourished people in those countries grew from 25 million to 34 million.

It says the Baltic states and most Eastern European countries have largely avoided significant hunger problems, although malnourishment either rose or remained a significant problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Latvia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro.

The report says Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia had levels of malnourishment of between 20 percent and 35 percent of their populations. The worst affected were Armenia, with around half of the population regularly undernourished, and Tajikistan, with 70 percent not getting enough to eat.

Ali Gurkan Arslan, managing editor of the FAO report, says some countries, such as China, dramatically reduced the number of their hungry in the early 1990s, but that the effort appears to be waning.

"China is, as you know, an important country because of the large numbers involved. And China has seen, in fact, one of the most important progresses in the field of decreasing undernourishment. But it has actually, over the past five years, appeared to have slowed down. So when all these things are taken into account, it appears as though we are diverging from the path that would actually take us to halving the number of undernourished by the year 2015. So there has been a general slowdown," Gurkan said.

He added: "There are, of course, some countries who have done much better, who have continued the progress that they have made. But overall, the numbers at the global level indicate that there has been some kind of slowdown which makes it difficult to reach the objective set in 1996."

He says Latin America and the Caribbean have seen a decline in the number of malnourished, with Brazil and Panama being praised as success stories. Hunger also declined in Bangladesh, Haiti, Vietnam, Kenya, and Mozambique. But it rose in India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Sudan.

Gurkan says the study shows hunger declined in countries where the economies are developing well. "This report indicates that there have been a number of factors that have been instrumental in differentiating between those who have done well and those who have not done as much or as well as the others," he said. "And amongst them is indeed the economic performance, not only of the overall economy, but also of the agricultural sector, which suggests that those who have achieved higher growth rates -- as far as agriculture and overall economics are concerned --- have done better."

HIV/AIDS, which is particularly prevalent in southern Africa, has emerged as a big factor in the increase in malnourishment. The FAO report says that in parts of Africa, up to 70 percent of farms have suffered labor losses -- with one-quarter of employees dead or too sick to work. That has not only cut their ability to grow crops but also reduces the number of people who know how to farm and the ability to pass on that knowledge to future generations.

Food emergencies have also impacted the ability of countries to deal with their malnourished populations. "The other [reason] is the number of [food] emergencies that we have observed over the past decade," Gurkan said. "The higher the proportion and higher the number of emergencies that have taken place, the lower, it seems, is the achievement of those countries in trying to reduce the number of undernourished."

Around 40 percent of food emergencies are caused by armed conflicts, while about 60 percent result from natural disasters, such as drought. The report says some countries with permanent water shortages may be better off importing staple foods and using their scarce water resources to grow high-value crops for export to strengthen their economies.

FAO spokesman Riddle attributes much of the blame for the increase in undernourishment figures in Africa to the long-running conflict in the Congo. He says only by monitoring the situation for another three or four years will experts know whether the present bleak statistics are a permanent trend.

"It's not truly clear if what we are seeing -- this rise in the hungry people from 1994, 1995 -- is that a new trend or could that be a temporary thing? For instance, you have one of the countries in Africa that caused these numbers to go up is the Congo, and obviously that's because of the state of war and the really terrible situation there. And it being the biggest country, it really brought the numbers down in terms of reducing hunger because there was no hunger reduction going on in that country for the last four years," Riddle said.

Riddle says that at the 1996 UN summit, wealthier nations did promise to help poorer ones, but they did not always put their resources into areas that would yield the best results. "Each country was supposed to put into place a program to reduce hunger by half in the individual country, and the developed countries committed to assisting the developing countries with their efforts," he said. "But the actual thing that seems to be going on here is not so much that countries didn't cough up the necessary money. It's the focus of putting into place programs that would actually reduce hunger."

He says the FAO has proposed a new anti-hunger program that learns from past mistakes and targets assistance more accurately. The proposals include improving agricultural productivity in poor rural communities, developing and conserving natural resources, expanding rural infrastructure and market access, and ensuring access to food for the most needy.


See also:

Meditation Focus #66: Alleviating Hunger on Earth

Meditation Focus #68: Fostering a Global Mobilization Against AIDS and Hunger

Meditation Focus #70: Recreating Harmony With Nature and Alleviating Hunger and Poverty Around the World

Meditation Focus #72: Renewed Urgency to Help Southern Africa Avert a Massive Famine

Feedback on Meditation Focus #72 - African Famine (Scroll down to find it)

Meditation Focus #76: Preventing a Famine in Ethiopia


Here are some of the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Please also keep this situation in mind during your meditations in the coming weeks to help ensure that peace prevail in the Middle East


Israel ready to cede land for peace


TEL AVIV - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says Israel will have to give up some occupied land for peace with Palestinians, but vows to speed up work on a disputed West Bank barrier it deems vital to its security.

He also raised the possibility, in a question-and-answer session with Israeli editors, that he would take unspecified "unilateral steps" should talks with the Palestinians on advancing a peace roadmap fail.

Sharon's comments hardened hints floated in local media that he was prepared in the event of continued stalemate in the peace process to remove some isolated Jewish settlements and draw the boundaries of a Palestinian state along the route of the barrier, which cuts deep into the West Bank.

"It is clear that in the end we will not be in all the places where we are now," the right-wing premier said. "[But] we are accelerating the fence and we won't stop it because it is essential to the security of the state."

Washington said this week it was penalising Israel for the barrier and settlement expansion by deducting nearly US$290 million ($452 million) from a multi-billion-dollar package of loan guarantees.

Opposition doves who have drafted an alternative, more far-reaching peace plan have dismissed Sharon's signs of flexibility as insincere, accusing him of a gambit to draw international attention away from their initiative.



Palestinian Rebuffs Talks, Citing Israeli Barrier

Nov 30, 2003

JERUSALEM, Nov. 29 - The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, said Saturday that he saw no point in meeting his Israeli counterpart, Ariel Sharon, unless Israel halted construction on the barrier it is building in the West Bank.

"If the Israeli government says it will continue building the wall regardless of what happens, then there is no need for any meeting," Mr. Qurei said after a cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "I am not saying this as a precondition, but I want serious positions."

Mr. Qurei's government was sworn in on Nov. 12, and since then, the Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers have been trying to revive top-level negotiations that broke down in August after Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli military strikes.

Both prime ministers say they are willing to talk, and their aides are expected to hold discussions in the coming days to arrange a meeting.

But Mr. Qurei says he wants the talks to produce tangible results for the Palestinian people, like an easing of the travel restrictions imposed by the Israeli security forces.

Mr. Sharon, meanwhile, says the Palestinian leadership must take action against violent Palestinian factions to put a peace plan back on track.

William J. Burns, a senior American diplomat, is in the region to meet with leaders on both sides to try to revive the peace plan. It envisions a comprehensive peace deal and the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. But neither side met its initial obligations after the plan was formally introduced in June.

Mr. Qurei's remarks on Saturday came a day after the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, released an 11-page report calling the Israeli barrier "a deeply counterproductive act" that had already caused "serious socioeconomic harm" to the Palestinian people.

Israel says the barrier is intended to prevent Palestinian suicide bombings, and reiterated its plan to continue building despite international criticism.

"There is no alternative to the construction of the security barrier as long as the Palestinian Authority does not make a real and concentrated effort to face Palestinian terrorist organizations," Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.


See also:

Meditation Focus #99: Re-Igniting The Will for Peace in the Middle East

Several other Meditation Focus related to the Middle East conflict are archived at

Kofi Annan says Israeli 'wall' puts peace at risk (Nov 29)

Fresh nod to peace process in Israel? (Nov 25)
JERUSALEM – Following sharp internal and external criticism of his policies, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is indicating that he is contemplating "unilateral measures" intended to ease Palestinian suffering and perhaps to invigorate a moribund peace process. (...) President Bush, whose administration has generally supported Sharon, offered some blunt language in a speech in London last week: "Israel should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and not prejudice final negotiations with the placements of walls and fences."

Peace-making ideas that are intriguing, controversial, but worth examining (Nov 29)
Whether one judges events according to the dictates of law, the reality of politics or the anxieties of human beings in distress, it should be clear to all concerned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has reached a critical and historic junction. Either the conflict is resolved fairly and peacefully or it ignites a wider conflict that draws in many other actors. In some respects, tensions and resentments over the Israeli-Palestinian situation have already contributed to the ongoing global political stresses that have resulted, in part, in terror and the “war against terror.” (...) The policies that Israelis and Palestinians in power have adopted in recent years have failed miserably. Therefore it is no surprise that we now witness several fascinating attempts by Palestinians, Israelis and interested others to forge a peace process where none has existed credibly in recent years. The most important one is the “Geneva Agreement” that will be signed in the Swiss city on Dec. 1. The specific peace-making proposals and their underlying principles are always fascinating, often intriguing, sometimes compelling - but invariably worth examining more closely.

In-depth coverage on Israel and Palestine

Full coverage on the Middle East conflict

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