ROME, 10 June 2002 -- Countries should increase their efforts to eliminate hunger, "one of the worst violations of human dignity," the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, told world leaders assembled at the 'World Food Summit: five years later' during the opening ceremony in Rome today.
"Every day, more than 800 million people worldwide - among them 300 million children - suffer the gnawing pain of hunger, and the diseases or disabilities caused by malnutrition. As a result, according to some estimates, as many as 24,000 people die every day," Mr Annan said. The UN Secretary-General warned that several countries in southern Africa "are facing a risk of outright famine over the coming months."
The Summit is being attended by delegations from more than 180 countries. It aims to revive political will and mobilize political resources to reduce by half the number of hungry people to around 400 million by 2015, a pledge made at the World Food Summit in 1996.
"Hunger and poverty are closely linked," the UN Secretary-General stressed. "Hunger perpetuates poverty, since it prevents people from realizing their potential. Hunger makes people more vulnerable to diseases. It leaves them weak and lethargic, reducing their ability to work and provide for their dependents. The same devastating cycle is repeated from generation to generation - and will continue to be, until we take effective action to break it."
"Progress in cutting by half the number of hungry has been far too slow," Mr Annan said. "We need an anti-hunger programme that could become a common framework around which global and national capacities to fight hunger can be mobilized." Wider access to food and agricultural and rural development should be addressed at the same time, he said.
Farmers should be given greater access to land, credit, technology and knowledge that would help them grow more resistant crops, as well as ensuring plant and animal safety, Mr Annan said. He also emphasized the key role of women, "who are involved in every stage of food production, working far longer hours than men."
The United Nations Secretary-General also called upon developed countries to open their markets further and to remove the barriers to food imports from developing countries. "The tariffs imposed on processed food, like chocolate, make it impossible for processing industries in developing countries to compete," he noted.
"Fighting hunger makes economic and social sense," Mr Annan said. "It is a key step towards achieving all the Millennium Development Goals. In a world of plenty, ending hunger is within our grasp. Failure to reach this goal should fill every one of us with shame. The time for making promises is over."
The Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Dr. Jacques Diouf, said in his speech that "six years after the World Food Summit 1996, death continues to stalk the multitude of hungry people on our planet. Promises have not been kept. Worse, actions have not reflected words. Regrettably, the political will and financial resources have not matched the mark of human solidarity.
"Hunger has a heavy negative impact on the economies of those countries that it afflicts," Dr. Diouf said. "It causes an estimated 1 percent per year loss in rate of economic growth through reduced productivity and nutritional disease."
Dr. Diouf pointed out that public support for agriculture in developing countries has decreased. "From 1990 to 2000, concessional assistance from the developed countries and loans from the international financing institutions fell by 50 percent for agriculture, the livelihood for 70 percent of the world's poor."
He added, "As a result, the number of undernourished has only fallen by 6 million per year instead of the 22 million needed to attain the objective set in 1996. At this rate, the target will be met 45 years behind schedule."
The global market for agricultural commodities has continued to defy any notion of fairness, the FAO Director-General said. "The OECD countries transfer more than 300 billion dollars to their agricultural sectors, which means that they directly support each farmer to the tune of 12 000 dollars per year. In contrast, these same countries provide the developing countries with an estimated 8 billion dollars per year, which works out at 6 dollars for each farmer.
"Access to developed country markets is constrained by customs tariffs that average roughly 60 percent for primary agricultural products, as compared to about 4 percent for industrial products," he said.
"Eliminating hunger is a moral imperative pertaining to the most basic of human rights, the right to exist. Eliminating hunger is also in the interest of the powerful countries," Dr. Diouf said. "Imagine the size of the market if 800 million hungry people were to become consumers. How much more peaceful the world would be if there were less of the poverty that is accompanied by injustice and despair."
Dr. Diouf reiterated the proposal for an ambitious anti-hunger programme announced by FAO last week. It calls for an additional public investment of US$24 billion annually to be made in poor countries to reduce by half the number of hungry people.
Developed countries and international financing institutions will have to provide half of the resources required "by raising the share of agriculture in their assistance to its level of 1990," Dr. Diouf said. The developing countries will have to increase their budgets for the rural sector by 20 percent to meet the other half.
An "International Alliance against Hunger" would "help revive the essential political will needed for the destiny of the world's hungry to regain centre stage in the concerns and priorities of governments, parliaments, local authorities and civil society," Dr. Diouf said.
President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi of Italy stressed as top priorities in the eradication of hunger the importance of "debt relief; access of developing countries to the Northern markets and more substantial financial flows towards the South." He called for "a full cancellation of outstanding bilateral debt for the poorest countries." Italy also suggested "the possibility of extraordinary debt relief in the event of natural disasters or serious humanitarian crises."
President Ciampi also said that leaders in developing countries are responsible for the future of their nations. "A deeper commitment to peace, democracy, justice, economic and social reforms and good governance is vital to attack poverty in rural areas. External and domestic conflicts add a foolish waste of resources to the tragedy of violence."
Pope John Paul II in his message said that poverty and hunger risk jeopardizing the existence of people and nations. The Pope said that he was concerned about decreasing assistance to developing countries. He urged countries to base international relations on solidarity and to guarantee that everyone receives their daily food. The Pope's message was delivered by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State of the Holy See.