A growing middle class could be driving a growing food insecurity crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean

—More than 41 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean suffer from acute food insecurity, a situation that is at its highest point in 20 years, the United Nations reported on Thursday.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome said the percentage of Latin Americans suffering from severe food insecurity (known as people on the edge) had increased to 8.2 percent in 2013, up from 6.9 percent in 2008. Extremely poor people living in rural areas had the highest risk of being unable to meet their food needs.

The current state of food insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean

A total of 412 million people are believed to be on the edge in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the U.N. statistics, and hunger has increased for the first time in three decades. A growing middle class is seen as potentially one of the drivers of the food insecurity trend.

The United Nations, however, cautioned against an overreaction to the crisis. What had happened “is in large part a function of a drop in world prices for food commodities and also, relatively speaking, poor investment levels,” FAO director general José Graziano da Silva said.

The FAO said it was trying to improve its assessment methodology, improving methods to gather statistics on the types of food needs people are facing.

The agency has been urged by governments and other groups to take better stock of the severity of the food situation by taking a clearer count of different kinds of food insecurity.

Out of the 3.7 billion people around the world that are members of the population, the United Nations has included in the tally of acute food insecurity a third that number, 1.8 billion people, who are considered to be in a chronic condition, suffering more acute food shortage.

Most recently, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela have approached or exceed crisis levels of food insecurity, the U.N. said.

U.N. officials also repeated their plea for donors to raise funds for organizations tackling food insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean, stressing that governments alone could not cover all the costs.

The vast majority of the two billion people who suffer from food insecurity in the region live in developing countries. The United Nations said the most severe indicators of food insecurity were recorded in places like Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, Paraguay, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti.

In some countries, people living on $1.25 a day, or less, are affected.

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