The number of people suffering from hunger is projected to reach a historic high this year, according to new estimates published Friday by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
And the boost to some 1.02 billion hungry people 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 agency said.
"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," reported FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.
"The silent hunger crisis - affecting one sixth of all of humanity - poses a serious risk for world peace and security. 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," he added.
Though good progress was made in reducing chronic hunger in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, FAO reported that hunger has been slowly but steadily on the rise for the past decade. The number of hungry people increased between 1995 and 1997 and between 2004 and 2006 in all regions except Latin America and the Caribbean. But even in this region, gains in hunger reduction have been reversed as a result of high food prices and the current global economic downturn.
This year, mainly due to the shocks of the economic crisis combined with often high national food prices, FAO projects the number of hungry people is expected to grow overall by about 11 percent.
According to estimates, there are around 642 million suffering from chronic hunger in Asia and the Pacific, 265 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, 42 million in the Near East and North Africa; and 15 million in developed countries.
FAO also noted that, unlike previous crises, developing countries have less room to adjust to the deteriorating economic conditions this year because the turmoil is affecting practically all parts of the world more or less simultaneously.
The economic crisis also comes on the heel of the food and fuel crisis between 2006 and 2008.
"The present situation of world food insecurity cannot leave us indifferent," FAO Director-General Diouf stated.
Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN World Food Programme, meanwhile, warned of the enormous humanitarian crisis that the "rapid march of urgent hunger" continues to unleash.
"The world must pull together to ensure emergency needs are met as long term solutions are advanced," Sheeran added.
FAO, which drew its 2009 projections on analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be presenting its 2009 hunger report, titled "The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI," in October.
In the meantime, the agency is urging for safety nets and social protection programs to be created or improved to reach those most in need.
Regarding medium and long term solutions, FAO suggested that they lie in increasing production particularly in low‐income food deficit countries.
"These countries must be assisted with the necessary technical and financial solutions and policy tools to enhance their agricultural sectors in terms of productivity and resilience in the face of crises," it noted.
Notably, 85.6 percent of people suffering from chronic hunger live in developing countries.