Tel Aviv, 29 April -- The Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Dr.Jacques Diouf, today called for a global action on hunger and malnutrition to ensure the fundamental human right to food.

In his opening speech to the 20th FAO Regional Conference for Europe in Tel Aviv, Dr. Diouf said the world's major challenges, like access to food and water with their ethical, political and strategic dimensions "could lead to extremely violent and serious conflict unless we put things right." He stressed Europe's responsibility to food security in the developing countries and to investment and international trade.

Although there is enough food to feed everyone in the world, Dr. Diouf said, its distribution remains terribly skewed. "Nearly 800 million people are chronically undernourished, and some 200 million children under the age of five are affected by acute or chronic protein and calorie deficiency," he said.

According to the FAO Director-General, the world's current grain reserves have fallen below the level considered necessary to guarantee global food security. "World market prices are soaring and the low-income, food-deficit countries will have to pay additional $3 billion this year for their food imports."

Europe, Dr. Diouf said, exports large quantities of grains to food-deficit countries and is one of the largest providers of food aid. However, he warned, in the context of recession and unemployment, poverty and exclusion are tending to gain ground in certain countries of the Region. "At the same time, hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity dog millions of men, women and children in parts of the region made vulnerable by nature or by political and economic circumstances," the FAO Director-General said.

According to Dr. Diouf, Europe has a special responsibility with respect to food security in the Third World. "I cannot overstate the lead role that Europe is called upon to play in the field of investment and international trade: the world expects boldly imaginative initiatives with a strong stamp of solidarity, in line with its already generous efforts to aid the developing countries. Europe's financial weight and its role in North-South exchanges confer a solemn responsibility to improve commercial flows and investments at all stages of agricultural production".

Dr. Diouf recalled that world population has considerably increased while the available arable land per person has diminished. He added that intensive exploitation has degraded the environment: forest cover is rapidly shrinking and the use of marginal lands is accelerating erosion. He also mentioned the over-exploitation of fisheries resources.

FAO will hold a World Food Summit by Heads of State and Government in Rome (13-17 November 1996) to address the world's major food security problems. The Summit's goal is to reach a commitment at the highest political levels to eliminate hunger and malnutrition. The Summit is expected to agree to a Policy Statement and Plan of Action.

"Measures will be needed for more equitable access to food for all, more efficient distribution and far fewer food losses," Dr. Diouf said. Other issues will be the conservation of the resource base, investments and infrastructure, social and economic policies and international trade.

The Regional Conference for Europe is a biennial gathering of ministers of agriculture and other senior officials from the 40 member countries of FAO in the European Region, and around 10 observers, among them the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Canada.