Rapid economic growth and policies to feed the poor have lifted millions of people from chronic hunger in Southeast Asia, with the exception of the Philippines where economic progress fell short of feeding its people.

Southeast Asia saw the biggest progress in reducing hunger as the number of undernourished people plunged 51% in the period between 1990 and this year, a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization report released this week shows.

Figures in the Philippines, however, continue to rise along with the country’s high population growth rate. Although the percentage of hungry people fell from 24% in 1992 to 17% last year, a growing population of more than 92 million people means that the total number of undernourished has actually risen.

“The Philippines has one of the highest population growth rates in the region and that kind of amplifies the difference,” Bangkok-based FAO senior economist David Dawe told the Wall Street Journal. Despite a robust economic growth, the benefits fail to reach the masses. “The Philippines has always been a nation where the fruits of growth tend to be shared less equally,” Mr. Dawe said.

“This is partly because growth tended to be limited to sectors that did not have a big impact on poverty. Areas like real estate development and financial services, for example,” Presidential Communications Development Secretary Ramon Carandang said.

The Philippines will be one of the few countries unlikely to meet the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of hungry people by 2015, the Journal reports.

UN figures show that the number of people without enough food worldwide has dropped by 13% to 868 million people in the last two decades. In Asia and the Pacific, the rate of hunger decreased nearly 30% from 739 million to 563 million.