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Bangladeshi poor 'beyond the razor's edge': UN food agency

world Updated: Sep 19, 2009 11:13 IST

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Millions of impoverished Bangladeshis are barely sustaining a hand-to-mouth existence that would be wrenched from their grasp by any fresh "economic shock," according to the UN food aid agency.

World Food Programme (WFP) country head John Aylieff said two million children aged under five in Bangladesh are suffering from acute malnutrition, which by World Health Organization standards represents a "nutritional emergency."

"The population is beyond the razor's edge, so that any other economic shock is going to have an immediate and direct impact on malnutrition," Aylieff told AFP.

Bangladesh was cushioned from the worst ravages of the global financial meltdown, but experts warn remittances and exports could be badly hit towards the end of this year.

In addition, the WFP is facing a global funding crisis, raising only 3.7 billion of the 6.7 billion dollars needed for its food assistance programmes worldwide in 2009.

In Bangladesh, it had planned programmes to help 6.9 million "completely destitute" people this year, but Aylieff said four million fell through the funding net.

"These are the bottom of the poverty scale. These are the ones micro-credit institutions wouldn't dream of looking at," Aylieff said.

Food prices in Bangladesh almost doubled in 2008 after the country's grain production was devastated by major flooding and a catastrophic cyclone the previous year, pushing an extra 7.5 million people below the poverty line, according to the WFP.