Latin America’s epidemic of hunger

The United Nations on Friday issued a grim assessment on the global toll of hunger and malnutrition, saying that some 62 million people across Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing acute food insecurity. That is almost double the number of displaced people in the Middle East, which means that a greater percentage of these people are not fleeing wars.

For a region long a recipient of global goodwill, it is a strong sign of the impact of the devastation of the recession and the collapse of the so-called free-trade deals championed by former U.S. President George W. Bush, including the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

Hunger has increased in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and the Andean region, according to the 2011 State of Food Security and Nutrition report, which draws on data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. In Haiti and the Dominican Republic, it has reached epidemic levels, which suggests that chronic or chronic hunger is reaching crisis levels.

In Mexico, the number of vulnerable people has doubled, from 11.2 million in 2005 to 21.8 million in 2012. About 3.3 million people are considered severely food insecure, which means they have little or no access to foods that are often considered healthy, like fruits, vegetables and cereals. The report said there were as many as 1.4 million people in the Caribbean who were undernourished, a figure that has quadrupled since 2005.

“The message for the South is clear: be more careful when you embark on any kind of trade agreement,” said Luis Fernández de Andrés, deputy director of the FAO office in Mexico City. “It is not recommended that you link the value chains to the import of maize. The immediate consequence is that your indigenous farmers are not competitive and you are losing their land, resources and support.”

The FAO estimates that 60 percent of the vulnerable people in Latin America and the Caribbean are under the age of 18. About 12 percent are chronically undernourished, which means they will die prematurely if their condition does not improve.

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua were the country most affected by food insecurity, but other countries such as Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador face challenges.

In the region’s larger economies, Mexico and Argentina are the most food-secure, followed by Brazil, Chile, Peru and Colombia.

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