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UN: World’s hungry top one billion

Rome — The number of hungry in the world has reached a "historic high" of more than one billion people, the UN food agency said Friday, blaming the global financial crisis for the surge.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said that "one sixth of humanity," or 1.02 billion people, do not get enough to eat. It predicted an 11 percent increase for all of 2009.

An estimated 642 million of the total are in the Asia-Pacific region, the agency said in a statement. Some 265 million are in sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean and 52 million in the Middle East and north Africa.

But the FAO said there are some 15 million hungry in developed countries.

"The most recent increase in hunger is not the consequence of poor global harvests but is caused by the world economic crisis that has resulted in lower incomes and increased unemployment," the statement said.

The FAO had initially revised downward its estimate of hungry people from 963 million to 915 million because of a "better-than-expected global food supply," the agency said.

However, "a dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty," said FAO Director General Jacques Diouf.

"Whereas good progress was made in reducing chronic hunger in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, hunger has been slowly but steadily on the rise for the past decade," the FAO said.

"This year, mainly due to the shocks of the economic crisis combined with often high national food prices, the number of hungry people is expected to grow overall by about 11 percent," the agency projects.

"The silent hunger crisis … poses a serious risk for world peace and security," the statement warned. "We urgently need to forge a broad consensus on the total and rapid eradication of hunger in the world and to take the necessary actions."

The agency noted: "The economic crisis also comes on the heel of the food and fuel crisis of 2006-08." It added that at the end of 2008 food prices "remained on average 24 percent higher in real terms… compared to 2006."

"Unlike previous crises, developing countries have less room to adjust to the deteriorating economic conditions because the turmoil is affecting practically all parts of the world more or less simultaneously."

It noted that poor consumers spend up to 60 percent of their incomes on staple foods.

The agency will release its annual "State of Food Insecurity in the World" report in October.

During a Rome summit one year ago, FAO member states reaffirmed their commitment to halve world hunger by 2015, a Millennium Development Goal set in 2000 by the United Nations.

Diouf said last year that "with current trends, that goal will be attained in 2150, rather than 2015."

The food agency warned that "the urban poor will probably face the most severe problems in coping with the global recession, because lower export demand and reduced foreign direct investment are more likely to hit urban jobs harder."

However, it said, "rural areas will not be spared. Millions of urban migrants will have to return to the countryside, forcing the rural poor to share the burden in many cases."