Hunger and malnutrition kill nearly 6 million children a year, and more people are malnourished in sub-Saharan Africa this decade than in the 1990s, according to a U.N. report released Tuesday.

Many of the children die from diseases that are treatable, including diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria and measles, said the report by the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of malnourished people grew to 203.5 million people in 2000-02 from 170.4 million 10 years earlier, the report states, noting that hunger and malnutrition are among the main causes of poverty, illiteracy, disease and deaths in developing countries.

The U.N. food agency said the goal of reducing the number of the world's hungry by half by the year 2015, set by the World Food Summit in 1996 and reinforced by the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, remains distant but attainable.

"If each of the developing regions continues to reduce hunger at the current pace, only South America and the Caribbean will reach the Millennium Development Goal target," Jacques Diouf, the agency's director-general, wrote in the report, the agency's annual update on world hunger.

The food agency said the Asia-Pacific region also has a good chance of reaching the targets "if it can accelerate progress slightly over the next few years."

"Most, if not all of the ... targets can be reached, but only if efforts are redoubled and refocused," Diouf said. "To bring the number of hungry people down, priority must be given to rural areas and to agriculture as the mainstay of rural livelihoods."

The report states that providing children with adequate food is crucial for breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty.

Diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, which kill more than 6 million people a year, hit the hungry and poor the hardest, according to the report's findings. Millions of families are pushed deeper into poverty and hunger by the illness and death of breadwinners, the cost of health care, paying for funerals and support of orphans.

About 75 percent of the world's hungry and poor live in rural areas in poor countries, the report found.