Annan's address on World Food Day emphasized that 10,000 children in the Third World would die from malnutrition on Thursday alone - and this should be viewed as great a tragedy as the collapse of a bank.
"The financial crisis deserves urgent attention and focus. But so does the question of hunger. Millions (this year) are liable to die. Is that any less urgent?" Annan told journalists at the Fighting Hunger conference attended by 200 foreign-aid experts from Europe, Africa and the United States.
"I agree that politicians being what they are, and under pressure from their own voters to improve their own local economic conditions - they will take their eyes off of poverty," he said.
Annan questioned whether governments were really serious when they proclaimed aid commitments at a Group of Eight summit in Scotland in 2005 and at a 181-nation Food Summit in Rome in June.
The G-8 meeting produced promises to boost development aid to Africa to US$50 billion by 2010. The Rome Food Summit ended with nations committing US$12 billion toward measures to modernize agricultural practices, including promises to buy more food from small African farmers and to help them boost their yields with fertilizer, high-tech seeds, irrigation and mechanical equipment.
If the promises were kept, Third World hunger would decline, Annan said.
Instead, hunger experts at Thursday's conference agreed that the current 920 million hungry worldwide is likely to grow this year to about 970 million.
Annan suggested that the US$12 billion pledge was an illusion.
"How much of that $12 billion has been paid out? How much of that $12 billion was new money? How much of it had been pledged before and pledged again?" he said.
Earlier, U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs told The Associated Press that it was predictable - but false - for wealthy nations to cite the cost of bank bailouts as a reason to drop African agriculture down the list. That issue has always been near the bottom of world priorities, he said.
"Even during the boom years, it was impossible to get traction on this issue. So, honestly, now that we're in tougher times, you ask me: Now is it hard? It's always been hard - period!" said Sachs, a Columbia University expert on Third World development who has been a special adviser to Annan and his successor, U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The deputy executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, Sheila Sisulu, said leaders should view the battle against malnutrition as linked to the struggle to keep the world's financial system afloat. Both, she said, promoted peace and stability.
"This voice for the hungry and poor has to be heard simultaneously alongside the crisis of the developed world, concerned about their stock portfolios," she said.
Sisulu, a South African, said donor governments preparing their 2009 budgets were being lobbied to maintain, not cut, their current spending on overseas aid.
"We are reminding our partners that the main street in the north and the village road in the south have to be considered equally," she said.