MANY sub-Saharan African nations would not be able to sustain their accelerated economic growth unless they eliminated hunger, the United Nations (UN) said yesterday.

Many sub-Saharan economies were growing fast but the growth rates had not translated into significant hunger reduction, UN Development Programme (UNDP) administrator Helen Clark said.

Sub-Saharan Africa's growth, now at about 4%, is accelerating faster than the rest of the world, excluding China and India, UNDP data show. According to the agency's African Development Report, nearly 218-million people on the continent are undernourished and 55-million children are malnourished, a figure that is projected to rise.

The report says food security can be achieved by several means, including boosting agricultural productivity and creating resilience against natural disasters.

Tegegnework Gettu, an assistant secretary-general and regional director for the UNDP bureau in Africa, said chronic food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa stemmed from decades of poor governance.

"Regimes bent on amassing wealth absorbed the region's resources into patrimonial power structures," he said.

"Self-serving elites, quick to profit from graft and patronage, have stood between the leaders and the people, monopolised state revenues and emptied the countryside, but they have provided neither employment nor industry."

He said Africa had the knowledge, technology and means to end hunger and food insecurity but lacked the political will and dedication. "Africa must stop begging for food. That is an affront to both its dignity and its potential," he said.

"If some African countries can acquire and deploy jet fighters, tanks, artillery and other means of destruction, why should they not be able to master agricultural know-how? Why should Africa be unable to afford technology, tractors, irrigation, seed varieties and training needed to be food secure?"

The UK estimates that between 50000 and 100000 people died in last year's famine in Somalia and drought in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti.

More than 15-million people are at risk of hunger in a zone that includes some of the poorest countries in the world: Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, as well as parts of northern Senegal, northern Nigeria and Cameroon.

Economist James Shikwati, who heads Kenyan economic think-tank the Inter Region Economic Network, said in the existing global trade system, valued at $36-trillion, Africa contributes only 3%.