The global recession has pushed up to 90 million more people into extreme poverty, the United Nations said on Monday, warning that a reduction in foreign aid could cause more hunger and disease, Reuters reported.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said impoverished people have already suffered most from the economic crisis and urged rich countries not to cut their assistance budgets.
"The numbers of people going hungry and living in extreme poverty are much larger than they would have been had progress continued uninterrupted," Ban said in a foreword to the U.N.'s annual progress report, which he launched in Geneva.
Several aid groups also published studies on Monday warning that the souring economy had made more people dangerously sick.
A drying-up of foreign aid "is likely to lead to preventable deaths and disease," according to a UNAIDS/World Bank report, which found that many patients are struggling to gain access to life-saving drugs because of the downturn.
"The global economic crisis has the potential to affect the lives of 3.4 million people on antiretroviral treatment, another 7 million who also need the treatment but don't have access to it and others who will need treatment in the future," it said.
"There is a strong risk that prevention programs for populations at higher risk will be cut. This would increase the numbers of new infections and people who need treatment in the future, imposing higher future costs."
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which links together 186 national aid groups, warned of growing epidemics of dengue fever, meningitis, and other diseases that poor countries will need help to fight.
"Resources for tackling epidemics of infectious diseases are scarce," it said in a report, warning that preoccupied wealthy nations could end up exposing themselves to public health risks.
Health emergencies expert Tammam Aloudat told reporters in Geneva, where the IFRC is based along with most United Nations aid operations, that 14 million people die every year from infectious diseases, mainly needlessly.
"We are today affected by more numbers of infectious diseases in history than ever," he said.
According to the United Nations, 55 million to 90 million more people are living in extreme poverty this year than was projected before the economy faltered. Emerging countries whose fast growth had dented poverty are now facing bleaker prospects.
In his report, the U.N. chief called on donor governments to keep providing funds for projects like the building of toilets and latrines for the 1.4 billion people living without them, who face higher disease risks as a result.
Ban also said it was important for programs to continue to improve maternal and infant survival rates and to tackle hunger and malnutrition in the young, estimating that in developing countries more than one quarter of children are underweight.