By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - Pope Francis condemned unfair access to food around the world as "perverse" on Thursday, saying it threatened disaster for humanity if not remedied.
"Few have too much and many have little," said the 81-year-old Argentine pontiff, who is one of the world's most respected voices on issues of poverty and social justice.
The Roman Catholic Church's leader made his comments during a visit to the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation for a session of the governing council of its sister agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
"Many do not have food and are adrift while the few are drowning in the superfluous," said the pope, who has often backed U.N. targets to tackle hunger and climate change.
"This perverse tendency of inequality is disastrous for the future of humanity."
In words echoing the complaints of grassroots protest movements around the world, Francis lamented that the rate of extreme poverty reduction was slowing "while the concentration of riches in the hands of few is increasing".
In the pope's home continent Latin America, the number of people in extreme poverty increased in 2017 to the highest in almost a decade despite improvements in social spending policies, another U.N. agency said last month. [L1N1ZF20A]
"They live precarious situations: the air is flawed, the natural resources are depleted, the rivers polluted, the soil is acidified," Francis said of the world's most disadvantaged.
"They do not have enough water for themselves or their crops, their sanitary infrastructures are very deficient, their housing scarce and defective."
Francis, who also met with indigenous representatives, said it was "paradoxical" that many of the more than 820 million people suffering hunger and malnutrition live in rural areas where most food is produced. The global exodus from rural to urban areas was worrying, he added.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)