Nearly 850 million people go to bed hungry every night, the vast majority in Africa and Asia, and the number of undernourished people in the developing world is climbing at a rate of almost 5 million a year, it said.
``The State of Food Insecurity in the World,'' an annual report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, paints a grim picture of a failing global campaign against hunger.
The latest estimates from 1999-2001 ``signal a setback in the war on hunger,'' the report said, and the prospect of meeting the U.N. goal of cutting in half the number of malnourished people by 2015 appears ``increasingly remote.''
``The goal can only be reached if the recent trend of increasing numbers is reversed,'' said FAO Assistant Director-General Hartwig de Haen. ``The annual reductions must be accelerated to 26 million per year, more than 12 times the pace of 2.1 million per year achieved during the 1990s.''
The Food and Agriculture Organization said it is time for nations to examine why hundreds of millions of people go hungry in a world that produces more than enough food for every man, woman and child.
``Bluntly stated, the problem is not so much a lack of food as a lack of political will,'' the report said.
Except when wars or natural disasters briefly put a spotlight on developing countries, ``little is said and less is done'' to end the plight of the 798 million people in the developing world who suffer from chronic hunger a figure that outnumbers the total population of Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa, the FAO said.
Another 11 million people in the developed people and 34 million in countries in transition are undernourished, it said.
At the U.N. World Food Summit in 1996, governments set a goal of cutting in half the number of undernourished people by 2015 and used the period 1990-1992 as a baseline. At the U.N. Millennium Summit in September 2000 the largest gathering of world leaders in history this goal went to the top of the list of global priorities.
According to the FAO report, during the first half of the 1990s, the number of chronically hungry people decreased by 37 million. But since the 1995-1997 period, the number has increased by over 18 million. This means the overall decline since 1990-1992 was only 19 million.
But the FAO said a closer analysis of the figures revealed ``an even more alarming trend'' that the number of undernourished people in the developing world actually increased by 4.5 million per year between 1995 and 2001.
On the good news side, 19 countries have reduced the number of hungry people since 1990-1992 by a total of over 80 million. The list spans the globe and includes six countries in Latin American and the Caribbean and seven in sub-Saharan Africa.
``It includes both large and relatively prosperous countries like Brazil and China, where levels of undernourishment were moderate at the outset, and smaller countries where hunger was more widespread, such as Chad, Namibia, Sri Lanka and Guinea,'' the report said.
Twenty-two countries including Bangladesh, Haiti and Mozambique succeeded in ``turning the tide against hunger'' in the second half of the 1990s, after rising through the first five years, it said.
The report also cites many ``encouraging signs'' Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's pledge and program to eradicate hunger by the end of his four-year term, Sierra Leone's pledge to eliminate hunger by 2007, and the pledge by leaders of the African Union to increase agriculture's share of public expenditure to at least 10 percent within the next five years.
The countries that succeeded in reducing hunger generally had rapid economic growth, especially in their agricultural sectors, slower population growth, lower levels of HIV infection, and higher standards of health and education, the FAO said.
At the other end of the scale are 26 countries where hunger increased by almost 60 million from 1990-1992 including Afghanistan, Congo, Burundi, North Korea, Somalia, Tanzania, Guatemala, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the report said.
China reduced the number of hungry people by 58 million from 1990-1992. India reduced the number of malnourished people by 20 million between 1990-1992 and 1995-1997, but the number increased by 19 million over the following four years, it said.