Page last updated at 17:51 GMT, Tuesday, 2 June 2009 18:51 UK

S Asia hunger 'at 40-year high'

Bangladeshi girl feeds a younger child
The economic slowdown has meant less money to spend

A UN report says hunger in South Asia has reached its highest level in 40 years because of food and fuel price rises and the global economic downturn.

The report by the UN children's fund, Unicef, says that 100 million more people in the region are going hungry compared with two years ago.

It names the worst affected areas as Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The report says South Asia's governments need to urgently increase social spending to meet the challenge.

It says that climate change and urbanisation also need tackling.

Poverty trap

According to the World Bank, three quarters of the population in South Asia - almost 1.2 billion people - live on less than $2 (£1.2) a day. And more than 400m people in the region are now chronically hungry.

The report focused on the impact the economic crisis had on women and children, saying they are the people most vulnerable during a downturn.

"We are on the verge of a crisis," Aniruddha Bonnerjee, a Unicef consultant said.

The report cites a number of factors for and symptoms of the sharp rise in people living in hunger and poverty:

  • Declining wages at home
  • A drop in remittances from abroad
  • Poor women often go without food to feed their families
  • Children can be pulled out of school and sent to work
  • High prices have forced people to borrow money at high interest
  • Income is spent on food but not on other essentials

'Worst affected'

Bangladeshi woman and child
Millions of South Asian people live on less than $2 a day

Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan are the worst affected but even the region's economic giant, India, has suffered because of job losses and lower remittances from Indians living abroad.

Unicef says the region's governments need to increase spending on food, health care and education to alleviate the crisis.

But it acknowledges that the economic slowdown means there is less money to spend.

It said that it was important for the two biggest countries in South Asia, India and Pakistan, to reduce their defence budgets to allow for increased social spending.

Governments of the region can also use fiscal stimulus programmes and aid from abroad to expand the provision of basic social services in fields like health and education, it says, while funding training programmes - especially for young people.

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