ROME - A combination of the food crisis and the global economic downturn has pushed more than 1 billion people into hunger in 2009, U.N. agencies said on Wednesday, confirming a grim forecast released earlier this year.

The Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program said 1.02 billion people -- about 100 million people more than last year -- are undernourished in 2009, the highest number in four decades.

The rising number of hungry people is intolerable, said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf as the new annual report on world hunger was released.

We have the economic and technical means to make hunger disappear, what is missing is a stronger political will to eradicate hunger forever, he said.

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.

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 in July pledged $20 billion over three years to help poor nations feed themselves, signaling a new focus on longer-term agricultural development.

That has sparked some concerns that emergency food aid might be cut back as a result.

The WFP last year raised a record $5 billion to feed poor people as a spike in food prices in 2006-2008 sparked rioting and hoarding in some countries.

So far this year it has received $2.9 billion, and has had to cut food rations or scale back operations in places like Kenya and Bangladesh.

FAO and WFP urge a twin-track approach, saying longer-term investment in agriculture development should not come at the expense of short-term initiatives to fight acute hunger spurred by sudden food shortages.

(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; editing by James Jukwey)