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FAO Press Release 02/27

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FAO Regional Conferences 2002

Tehran/Rome, 12 March, 2002 - Home to 6.2 percent of the world's population, the Near East Region is the most water scarce region in the world, possessing just 1.5 percent of the planet's renewable fresh water resources, warned UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf.

"The future emphasis must be directed towards increasing the efficiency of water management systems and increasing water productivity, getting more crops per drop, as well as to move seriously towards tapping new non-conventional water resources to increase agricultural productivity," Dr. Diouf told Near East Agriculture Ministers at the 26th FAO Regional Conference for the Near East, 9-13 March 2002.

Addressing the state of food security in the region Dr. Diouf stated that the Near East, compared to other regions in the world, has the lowest indicators relating to undernourishment (7.2%) and extreme poverty (2%). "However," he cautioned,
"these average figures hide a wide range of variation among its countries." The Near East region contains two of the most food insecure countries in the world - Somalia, where some 75 percent of the population is undernourished, and Afghanistan where as much as 70 percent of the people suffer from hunger. Undernourishment in Iraq has not improved in recent years, while the situation in Palestine has worsened in the past year, the FAO Director-General said.

FAO Conference documents show that agricultural production did not keep pace with the rapidly increasing demand for food in the Near East, resulting in a widening food gap that has to be filled by imports of cereals, dairy products, sugar and vegetable oil. The region's value of agricultural imports is, on average, about $30 billion a year - three times the value of its exports. Net cereal imports rose from 6.5 million tons in 1960-71 to 55 million tons in 1999, which is about one-fifth of world cereal imports, according to FAO.

Some 815 million people in the world continue to go to bed hungry every night. To achieve the 1996 World Food Summit goal of reducing by half the number of hungry people in the world by 2015, the number of the hungry would have to drop at an average annual rate of 20 million a year. But, FAO statistics put the annual rate of reduction at an average of 6 million people since 1996.

"Projections indicate that the number of the undernourished in the Near East region would, by 2015, still remain far from the 1996 World Food Summit target of reducing their number by 50 percent," Dr. Diouf said. "Therefore, I wish to recall commitments of the member countries to this goal and emphasize that concerted and focused development efforts, combined with investment in manpower development and productivity of land and water, can make a difference and reverse the current trend."

One of the major tasks before the FAO Conference for the Near East will be to prepare for the World Food Summit: five years later, which will be held this year in Rome from 10 to 13 June to speed up implementation of the decisions taken in 1996.

"The participation of Heads of State and Government of the Near East Region at the World Food Summit: five years later is essential for its success. It is imperative to reinforce the political will at the highest level and to mobilize the necessary financial resources to revitalize the fight against hunger," Dr, Diouf said.

"This regional conference is taking place in a global economic, social and political context that is under rapid change. Globalization and liberalization of trade in agricultural products, the movement of capital and the transfer of technology should take place in such a way that both the developed and developing countries will be able to enhance the living conditions of their people," Dr. Diouf said.

"FAO will continue to make available to its member nations the analyses and information needed to reinforce the technical skills of negotiators in agricultural trade," the FAO Director-General said.

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