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United Nations food agencies report more than one billion people, or one sixth of the world's population, are going hungry.  This report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program is being released in advance of World Food Day, which falls on October 16.  The report warns the number of undernourished people will continue to grow unless the world's fragile food system is reformed.  

The report finds the combined food and economic crises have pushed the number of hungry people worldwide to historic levels.  It says poor people everywhere are going without food, but nearly all the world's undernourished live in developing countries. 

World Food Program spokeswoman, Emilia Casella, describes the situation as alarming.

"Really, we should be calling this world hunger day, not world food day," said Casella.  "Right now at a time when there are more hungry people in the world than ever before, there is less food aid than we have seen in living memory and this is extremely alarming to the World Food Program because we are the ones on the front lines trying to help the most hungry out of the one billion people who are going to bed every night without enough food." 

The report pinpoints several factors, which make the current crisis particularly devastating.  It says the economic crisis has cut the amount of foreign aid and investment going to poor countries.  It also has reduced remittances from people working abroad.

It says high food prices are causing families to fall deeper into destitution and the hunger-poverty trap.  It says an across-the-board drop in trade and financial inflows has resulted in lower earnings from exports.

The report finds an estimated 642 million people are suffering from chronic hunger in Asia and the Pacific.  In sub-Saharan Africa, 265 million people are going hungry and in Latin America and the Caribbean 53 million people are undernourished.

WFP's Casella tells VOA all this hunger translates into some grim statistics.

"14,000 children a day are dying from hunger-related causes.  And hunger is killing more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined," she added.

She calls this situation intolerable especially as the economic and technical means to make hunger disappear exist.  

"The world does have enough capacity to grow enough food to feed everybody who is on the planet," Casella said.  "That is the most frustrating thing about what we are talking about.  Let me use Darfur as an example.  In south Darfur right now, they are only cultivating about a third of the arable land that they could be cultivating.  And, that is due to many factors including conflict and lack of development.  But, the point is if the conditions were right and if farmers could get to their fields and if food could get to markets, people all over the world would have enough food to eat and today they do not."  

The UN Food agencies are appealing to the richer countries to increase their foreign development aid and to invest in agriculture and economic safety nets in poorer countries.  They say these interventions will help to save lives and families.