Poverty and hunger are increasing throughout the world, but the suffering of millions is being eased because of public response, according to CARE, the international relief and development organization."The enormity of the suffering around the world is staggering," said Philip Johnston, Care's executive director. "`Half a billion people are seriously malnourished, 15 million children die from illness and malnutrition each year, millions more lack housing, clean water and adequate clothing."

But Johnston said the outlook is far from bleak. "Contributions from individuals and donations of grain and other foodstuffs from the U.S. and other Western governments enabled CARE to distribute $278 million in humanitarian aid last year.

"We reached more than 20 million people with lifesaving rations of food and millions more with long-term assistance that helped them improve their health, increase their agricultural output and create new jobs and new sources of income," he said.

"We aren't close to solving the world's problems, but we are giving hope and new opportunity to millions of poor, sick and starving."

CARE is a non-profit organization that operates in 38 countries throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America. The international staff of development experts works directly with people in Third World nations to help them become self-sufficient, using techniques like agricultural extension services, classroom training and outreach programs. They also adapt nontraditional methods such as puppet shows, songs, pictures and slogans to teach.

CARE participates in national vaccination programs in 17 countries, and teaches lifesaving oral rehydration therapy to mothers with children suffering potentially fatal diarrhea-induced dehydration.

Johnston said major challenges include starvation in Africa, which endangers more than 14 million people; food shortages in Asia and an urban population explosion, civil strife and enormous national debts in Latin America.