Obsession with military might - and spending of about a trillion dollars worldwide to support it - is one of the chief reasons people around the world are hungry.

That's the conclusion of "Hunger 1990: A Report on the State of World Hunger," prepared by Bread for the World Institute on Hunger and Development, a non-profit, tax-exempt research organization."We have launched a three-year campaign on that topic," said Katherine Smith of Bread for the World. "There's a very strong tie."

The institute report says that more than 500 million people around the world are always hungry, and another 500 million have "periods of hunger" each year. In the United States, an estimated 18 million to 20 million people suffer from poor nutrition. About 8 million of them are very young; 2 million are senior citizens.

Most hungry Americans are city-dwellers, although the poverty rate is growing in rural America. The South is the area most affected by hunger. And hunger also hits some ethnic minorities hard.

The so-called "arms race" is even growing rapidly in Third World countries, where military spending increased from 7 percent to 19 percent between 1960 and 1987. Total military spending worldwide is estimated at a trillion dollars, and the United States is responsible for about one-third of that total.

That money, the report says, could have been used to increase nutrition levels and save lives.

The report breaks down into area-by-area and country-by-country analyses.

Wars have caused widespread hunger, reduced production and distribution of food products, hurt the environment and led directly to refugee problems.

An estimated 40,000 children 5 years old and younger die each day from malnutrition and infection. It's the same effect, according to the report, as having 100 jumbo jets loaded with 400 infants and children crash every 14 minutes.

Hungry people share traits, including extreme poverty. Most of them have little access to private or social services. They are politically ineffective. Many live in remote areas.

The factors that could lead to better nutrition are different. In South American countries, for example, the main cure would be an economic turnaround. In the United States, the report says, the major need is jobs that pay a liveable wage and offer benefits, as well as adequate funding of social programs.

Individuals can combat hunger by contributing to nutrition programs and soup kitchens and by advocating for policy changes.

Institute staff provided the research and writing for the report, Smith said. Special consultants, familiar with each country, have provided editing.


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Food for Thought

Hunger '90 has identified six areas where change could reduce hunger worldwide:

- Reduce military spending and put the money into human and development needs. One percent of the U.S. military budget would more than double U.S. development assistance.

- Encourage poor people to take the initiative in pushing for programs that will help. Successful programs will be based on what people can do to help themselves.

- Reshape trade, debt and development aid policies of industrialized countries.

- Implement policies that consider the needs and skills of women, among the chief victims of hunger.

- Work to solve ecological problems and population growth, which are tied closely to hunger.

- Remember that economic growth is important, but it alone will not stop hunger.