Slump pushes world hunger to 40-year high

A combination of the food crisis and the global economic downturn has pushed more than 1 billion people into hunger in 2009, about 100 million more people than last year.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme said 1.02 billion people are undernourished in 2009, the highest number in four decades.

The increase in the number of hungry people is not a result of poor harvests but is due to high food prices – particularly in developing countries – lower incomes and lost jobs.

"The rising number of hungry people is intolerable," said FAO director-general, Jacques Diouf. "We have the economic and technical means to make hunger disappear, what is missing is a stronger political will to eradicate hunger forever."

Even before the recent twin crises of food and recession, the number of undernourished people had risen steadily for a decade, reversing progress made in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The Group of Eight countries pledged $20bn over three years in July to help poor nations feed themselves. That has sparked some concerns that emergency food aid might be cut back as a result. The WFP last year raised a record $5bn to feed poor people. So far this year it has received $2.9bn, and has cut food rations or scaled back operations in places like Kenya and Bangladesh.