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Part I: Opening address

Hartwig de Haen
Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Department, FAO
Rome, Italy

Friends, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, all of you are most welcome to this Scientific Symposium on Measurement and Assessment of Food Deprivation and Undernourishment held at FAO headquarters. I would like to say at the outset that measurement and monitoring of what happens in the world is one of the fundamental mandates of the United Nations. The responsibility of FAO is, of course, to monitor food and agriculture at the global level, but the promotion of these activities at the country and subnational levels is equally important. Such monitoring and measurement applied to the problem of food insecurity or, more specifically, food deprivation and undernutrition, serve the noble objective of counting and identifying those who are chronically or temporarily undernourished, malnourished, food insecure or vulnerable. In doing so, we are actively contributing to the realization of a basic human right: the right to food. Knowledge by decision-makers of where the food insecure, vulnerable, and under- or malnourished persons are is an essential precondition for targeted and effective action. Therefore, it is our duty to mobilize effort and resources and to bring science and experience to bear towards this endeavour. In the "World Food Summit: five years later", which was just concluded, it was shown that progress in the reduction of the number of undernourished has been too slow to meet the goal of halving hunger by 2015 and that more action is to be taken at the global, regional and country levels.

Action on the part of governments or other responsible policy-makers will be supported by the use of all available avenues to determine why people are hungry, who they are and where they live. Appropriate information is a tool for those governments that have the political will to fight hunger and malnutrition. It can also become a very powerful advocacy tool for mobilizing the necessary political will. I hope, therefore, that this Symposium, in addition to the technical task of discussing the various measurement methods, will also serve a very political purpose - to draw attention to the need for greater action in fighting hunger and malnutrition.

As you are aware, FAO has conducted monitoring of undernourishment over many years as part of its mandate, but this effort acquired particular importance after the 1996 World Food Summit established the target of halving the number of undernourished by the year 2015. Halving of hunger has also become an important part of the Millennium Development Goals. There is therefore a clear and internationally accepted mandate to reduce the number of hungry substantially and sustainably, which makes the monitoring of progress in hunger reduction at the global and national level an even more important part of our mandate. The World Food Summit determined the target at the global level, but what we have seen is that most, if not all, of the progress in reducing the number of undernourished, as measured by the FAO indicator, is mainly due to achievements in a few countries, in particular, China. Using the same FAO indicator, many developing countries have seen an increase in the number of hungry or undernourished in the 1990s. Therefore, unless each and every country adopts the same target - an outcome that is undoubtedly in the spirit of those who adopted the Rome Declaration at the World Food Summit - we may see a widening gap between successful and unsuccessful countries in the world.

It has always been my opinion that we cannot have only one indicator of hunger, even if we wish to measure only one aspect of it. In reality, we want to measure a variety of aspects including food availability, food intake, nutritional status and accompanying factors that determine these different states, hence the need for using different indicators.

I cannot anticipate what the outcome of this discussion will be, but I would hope that you will all contribute to improving the currently used methods as well as suggesting others. In preparing this meeting, we thought of structuring it along the lines of the well-established indicators, especially the one that FAO is using and to which so much reference is made in the world. As you know, it is an indirect indicator, not taken from observations of people's food intake, and therefore has always been subject to diverse opinions - some believe we overestimate, while others believe we underestimate the prevalence of hunger. It is surprising how few countries have challenged our estimates since we began publishing them for individual countries in 1996. A few have criticized the FAO estimate, but most refer to the one that FAO provides for them, even though it was not meant to be the only indicator available for individual countries. Unfortunately, many countries have not yet begun to measure their food deprivation and undernutrition or to publish those data. But that is the task of the FIVIMS, initiative and I am glad to note that many who are involved in the Interagency Working Group on FIVIMS are also here. There is as much donor interest as country interest in this, and we are encouraged by the fact that so many developing countries have launched projects to establish information systems and to obtain data of their own to be used for better and targeted policies. Methods and the choice of indicators will be an essential dimension of your discussion, and I believe we have every possibility to come up with recommendations that will be useful to all those who are concerned with and work on issues related to hunger in the world, and to those who actively fight to reduce it.

The Symposium is organized around three main themes. On the first day, we will hear from keynote speakers on the various methods in use to measure undernourishment, undernutrition and malnutrition, followed in the afternoon by discussion sessions for each method. Our first keynote speaker, Loganaden Naiken, formerly Chief of the Statistical Analysis Service here at FAO, will present the FAO measure of dietary energy supply. He will be followed by Lisa Smith of the International Food Policy Research Institute, who will discuss the use of household income and expenditures surveys, Anna Ferro Luzzi of the Italian Nutrition Institute, on individual food intake surveys, Prakash Shetty of the Nutrition Division at FAO, on anthropometric surveys, and Eileen Kennedy, of the International Life Sciences Institute, who will discuss the use of qualitative methods to measure hunger. A synthesis of these methods and possibilities for their combined use will be provided by John Mason, Professor at Tulane University. On the second day, we will hear contributed papers by 24 researchers who have developed and/or used measurement methods in the field. The final day will be dedicated to organizations that use hunger data for implementation of programmes and interventions, followed by a final discussion, involving everyone, about all that we have heard and directions for the future.

Welcome again to this Symposium, and I wish you a very successful three days of work.

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