With the Latin America and the Caribbean region overall showing significant progress in fighting hunger, officials from 33 countries are set to attend a United Nations conference in Guatemala beginning Monday in a bid to consolidate gains and remedy shortfalls as part of the global effort to halve hunger levels by 2015.The weeklong UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean will decide the main thrust of the work to be carried out by the regional office during 2004 and 2005.Latest figures show that South America improved its food security, reducing the number of undernourished from 41.5 million people to 32.9 million during the 1990’s. The situation in the Caribbean region remained stable, with 7.9 million people suffering from malnutrition, but in Central America the number increased from 5 million to 7.5 million. FAO is urging all 33 participating countries to ensure that improving food security becomes a principle strategy in advancing rural development. “FAO believes that food security – and by this we mean both physical and economic access for all to the food needed to live a healthy and active life – is essential for economic growth and long-lasting, sustainable development,” Gustavo Gordillo de Anda, FAO’s regional Assistant Director-General, said in a statement released today. While hunger worldwide is increasing once more despite the reduction achieved during the first half of the 1990s, Latin America and the Caribbean, along with Asia and the Pacific, were the only two regions that managed to reduce the absolute number of undernourished people during the decade.The reduction amounted to 5.5 million people, but progress was not uniform across all sub-regions. In South America the average overall number fell to 10 per cent of the population but in some countries, such as Bolivia, the percentage reached 22 per cent, placing it close to the Central American average.The Latin American countries with the lowest levels of undernourishment – less than 5 per cent of their population – include Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador and Chile.At the opposite end of the scale, Haiti heads the list of countries with an extremely high level – around 50 per cent of the population lack sufficient food to lead healthy lives. This is followed by Nicaragua (29 per cent), Panama (26 per cent) and The Dominican Republic and Guatemala (25 per cent).