World 'failing on hunger pledges'
Little progress has been made in tackling world hunger despite pledges by leaders to halve the number who are underfed, the UN's food agency says.
Some 820m people in the developing world were hungry in 2001-2003, only 3m fewer than 1990-1992, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.
Although the overall proportion of hungry people in the world has fallen, that is only down to population growth.
FAO head Jacques Diouf said the "sad reality" was that little had been done.
The promise to cut by 50% the number of underfed people by 2015 was made at the World Food Summit (WFS) in Rome in 1996.
At that point the figure had fallen from the baseline of 823m to 800m - but the situation has since become worse.
"Far from decreasing, the number of hungry people in the world is currently increasing - at the rate of four million a year," said Mr Diouf, speaking at the launch of the annual State of Food Insecurity in the World report.
He said failure to achieve reductions in hunger would be "shameful".
However, he said the world could meet its target of halving hunger if efforts were made to improve agriculture in the developing world.
According to the latest FAO report, there were 854m undernourished people in total in 2001-2003, of whom 820 million were in the developing world.
The report reveals differing trends in the world's regions, with the worst situation occurring in Africa.
While the number of hungry people has fallen in Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean, the figure in the Near East and North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa has risen.
The FAO now predicts that by 2015, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to 30% of the world's hungry, compared with a fifth in 1990-1992.
The 3m reduction in hungry people shown in the latest figures also compares poorly with the achievements made in previous decades, the FAO points out.
The number of hungry people dropped by 37m during the 1970s and 100m in the 1980s.
However, despite the lack of progress towards the WFS goal, the FAO said it would be wrong to see the 1990s as a "lost decade" in the fight to reduce world hunger.
"Is the 2015 WFS target still attainable? The answer should be a resounding 'yes'," said Mr Diouf.
The FAO report also states that big population increases mean the world is, at least, on track to reach the first Millennium Development Goal on hunger.
By this target, the world must halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion (rather than number) of people who suffer from hunger.
While one in five people were malnourished in 1990-1992, FAO projections suggest it could fall to 10% by 2015.