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Press Release 99/68 C/3

FAO DIRECTOR-GENERAL SAYS REDUCTION IN THE NUMBER OF UNDERNOURISHED IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES ENCOURAGING


Rome, 13 November 1999 - Speaking to Agriculture Ministers and other officials from the 179 Member Countries of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome for the 30th Session of the Organization's governing Conference, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf expressed satisfaction that the total number of malnourished people in developing countries declined by 40 million between 1990-92 and 1995-97. The figure came from a recent FAO report. *

"This reduction of about 8 million people per year on average is encouraging, but still far below the figure of 20 million required to achieve the objective of the World Food Summit," Dr. Diouf said.

At the November 1996 World Food Summit Heads of State and Government from 186 countries pledged their support for food security for all and agreed to reduce by half the number of hungry people in the world by the year 2015.

Many difficulties persist, world cereal production has declined and for the first time in four years it was necessary to draw on available food stocks, said Dr. Diouf. "Thirty-five countries are currently facing serious food shortages. These are mainly due to adverse weather conditions and to the outbreak or continuation of civil conflict or a state of war, but they can also be due to serious economic problems," he added.

Speaking about FAO's role in emergencies, Dr. Diouf said FAO's Special Relief Operations Service had to intervene in 64 countries over the last two years. "The value of its operations doubled from $43 million in 1997 to $86 million in 1998, and could reach $100 million in 1999." As examples he cited the Kosovo crisis and Hurricane Mitch which devastated several Central American countries in 1998.

Commenting on recent developments linked to certain agricultural production techniques, like the "mad cow" crisis and the presence of dioxins in the food chain - and on rapid advances in biotechnology, Dr. Diouf said that the responsible FAO bodies, such as the Commission on Genetic Resources, are actively working on developing codes of conduct. As for questions of ethics, these are being examined by an internal committee supported by a panel of experts. "The Codex Alimentarius remains the leading instrument for determining international standards - a crucial activity in a context of globalization and growing trade," said Dr. Diouf.

The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of norms, usage codes, directives and recommendations by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which sets international food and food trade standards. The Commission is a subsidiary body of FAO and the World Health Organization.

Commenting on the various achievements of FAO, Dr. Diouf said that the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), designed to bring about a sustainable increase in agricultural production in low-income food-deficit countries, is now operational in 50 countries and under formulation in 25 others. The SPFS was launched just after Dr. Diouf's election as FAO Director-General six years ago. "The other special programme launched in 1994, EMPRES, the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases, has also progressed well, again thanks to donor support."

TeleFood, FAO's series of televised world food hunger awareness-building events aired annually since 1997, have significantly helped sensitize public opinion to the root causes of food insecurity and the need for action against hunger and malnutrition in the world, according to Dr. Diouf. "Over 60 countries were directly involved in one way or another in 1997 and 1998, enabling the operation to reach out to some 500 million people and to collect $4 million in donations."

The FAO Director-General also said the Organization will continue to be open to the outside world and will remain very close to its Member Nations and their rural populations, but he warned, "FAO's future will also depend on the resources made available to it."

"I can only hope that the period of restrictions will soon end for this Organization and for all the other organizations of the United Nations system that share its objectives and its endeavors," Dr. Diouf concluded.

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*The State of World Food Insecurity 1999 is available at: http://www.fao.org/NEWS/1999/img/SOFI99-E.PDF

For additional information on the FAO Conference, please visit the FAO Web Site: http://www.fao.org

Many of the Conference documents are available on the FAO Web site at: http://www.fao.org/unfao/bodies/conf/C99/C99-e.htm

Contact:
John Riddle, FAO/Rome
Tel. (39) 06 5705-3259
e-mail: john.riddle@fao.org


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