UN and firms team up to tackle hunger

A new map released this week highlights global crisis points and success stories.

The figures are almost too big to comprehend: 800 million of the world's 6.4 billion people go through their days hungry. About 300 million of them are children.

But a new map released this week by the United Nations and partner organizations puts a finer point on those numbers. It's a country-by-country survey of hunger around the world. And it arrives at a time of fresh focus on hunger and poverty in places like Zimbabwe and Congo - and on how corporations are stepping up to help fight food shortages. It also highlights some surprising findings:

• Eritrea has the highest rate of undernourishment in Africa - 73 percent. That's far higher than the 46 percent rate in neighboring Ethiopia, which is notorious for its hunger problems.

• Marxist North Korea has an undernourishment rate of 36 percent, significantly lower than the 47 percent rate in Haiti, in America's backyard. (Tajikistan and Yemen round out the only four countries outside Africa that have undernourished rates higher than 35 percent.)

• South African transportation giant TNT provided trucks, airplanes, and staff in 2003 to help bring 33 tons of supplies to refugees in Chad who had fled fighting in Sudan's Darfur province.

The map's release comes as Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe agreed this week to again receive food from international donors. Last year, he ejected most aid groups.

But with an estimated 4.8 million people now verging on starvation, Mr. Mugabe told UN special envoy James Morris on Wednesday that he would accept food aid. (Thursday Zimbabwe's social welfare minister said that the country was not requesting food aid, but welcomed any that comes.) Zimbabwe's undernourishment rate is 44 percent.

Congo's is worse, at 71 percent. According to the UN World Food Program, 37 million of Congo's 60 million people desperately need food. Malnutrition accounts for about half of all deaths.

The interactive version of the map (go to http://maps.maplecroft.com/map.html and under the "social" pull-down menu, select "hunger") also highlights things like how countries now facing the same amounts of undernourishment can be on divergent paths: In Southern Africa, for instance, Zambia has an undernourishment rate of 49 percent; neighboring Mozambique has a similar rate of 47 percent. But hunger in Zambia is growing worse, while Mozambique is showing progress.

The map was released in Cape Town, South Africa, at the Africa Economic Summit, which is focusing on the continent's business prospects. It also highlights how corporations are joining the global fight against hunger.

In Nicaragua, for instance, children weren't getting enough key nutrients. So Proctor & Gamble teamed with relief groups to distribute a low-cost, high-nutrient drink called NutriStar nationwide.

But the role of multinational corporations in poor countries is also under fresh scrutiny this week, including in the Congo. A new report by Human Rights Watch called "The Curse of Gold" details how multinationals have exploited the fighting in eastern Congo to mine one of Africa's richest goldfields. It specifically targets South Africa's AngloGold, a cosponsor of the Cape Town conference on business in Africa, for operating "on the thin edge of ethical and responsible business."

The report has already had one effect. It accuses Swiss-based Metalor of buying "tainted gold" from Uganda that had been smuggled out of Congo. Metalor has announced it is suspending gold purchases from Uganda.

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