UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME (UNEP) - PROGRAMME DES NATIONS UNIES POUR L'ENVIRONNEMENT - PROGRAMA DE LAS NACIONES UNIDAS PARA EL MEDIO AMBIENTE
Mr. Reuben Olembo, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme ( UNEP)
This Summit is a wake-up call the world has long needed. In the past the world food problem has been dramatically presented and then quietly allowed to drift from the minds of those who were concerned. This Summit has before it the challenge that this does not happen again, that the world's attention will be constantly focused on the need to make fundamental improvements, that ways to achieve sustainable and universal food security will receive full attention at all times of governments and institutions.
Hunger is still rampant but it often remains invisible. Hunger becomes globally visible when images of starving refugees flash across our television screens. We hear about hunger when urban populations revolt against hikes in the price of food. The face of hunger lies concealed behind the faces of poverty, war, desertification and degradation of land. Hundreds of thousands of people are hungry because some disaster has uprooted them from their homes, but mostly they are hungry because they are poor and their land cannot produce enough food. Indeed, drought, war and other cataclysms only serve to magnify food insecurity.
A common factor linking virtually every region of acute poverty, virtually every rural homeland abandoned by destitute squatters is a deteriorating natural environment. Ecological degradation is, to a great extent, the result of economic, social and political inadequacies; but it is also, with growing force, a principal cause of poverty. If the ecosystem's capacity to meet human needs is crippled, the plight of those living directly off the land worsens, and recovery and development become all the more difficult.
Indeed, we live amidst a startling paradox: the world has technological, institutional and infrastructural capacity to produce enough food to ensure adequate nutrition for all, not only today but in the future, yet it is a world in which chronic hunger and malnutrition thrive.
We can no longer afford to gloss over the specific efforts required to achieve sustainable food security in the areas where hunger is chronic. The challenge is of staggering proportions. It is also complex. It has to be addressed realistically, and systematically, along several fronts: production, consumption, trade and investment; social, economic, technical and institutional; and at various levels - global, regional, national and local. Any effective approach to addressing it has to recognize the diverse and specific concerns of the countries and the communities involved. International trade in food will have to play a vital role in advancing food security. At the same time, low-income food-deficit countries have to fully mobilize policies, institutions, technologies and civil society's efforts to enhance their capacities to produce food sustainably.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is gratified that environmental and natural resource considerations occupy a central place in the Summit's Plan of Action. Clearly, each country has to determine and pursue its own specific path to achieve food security. And the world community has to support that task in every possible way. The Summit's Plan of Action provides a pragmatic framework for such collective endeavour.
A most complex challenge that we face is in addressing transboundary environmental issues of land, water, forests and fisheries management which have a direct impact on food production. These in turn encompass a variety of issues, biodiversity conservation; control of desertification; control of deforestation; control of over-fishing and unsound fishing practices; protecting coastal waters and seas from pollution; and sound management of river, lake and groundwater basins. National governments will need to develop and implement consistent and mutually supportive policies and programmes to ensure sound natural resources and ecosystem management to achieve food security, cost-effectively and sustainably.
Another daunting challenge we face is increasing food production significantly and sustainably, in the face of scarce arable land, water, and insufficient energy use. There is often no alternative to more intensive cultivation of available agricultural land, through increased irrigation and its better management, better technology and cultivation practices, and environmentally-sound use of fertilizers, pesticides, genetic resources and traditional inputs.
Food aid needs to be related, where possible, to restoring and conserving the natural resource and environmental foundation of food security. Agricultural development should be related, in design and implementation, to measures aimed at achieving environmental goals. The win-win avenues to achieve, in mutually supportive ways the social, economic and environment objectives must be explored.
We need a new Green Revolution to achieve higher and sustained levels of land, water and input productivity while conserving biodiversity, protecting environmental quality and health, and controlling and reversing, where possible, resource degradation. A Green Revolution without losing ground. And this new green revolution has to embrace all countries - food deficit and food surplus alike.
Commitment Three of the Summit's Plan of Action calls for an integrated approach to addressing this challenge and outlines several avenues of action. The United Nations Environment Programme, in collaboration with FAO and its other United Nations partners, has been active in promoting some of these. They include for example early warning based on environmental assessment and monitoring, proper use of pesticides and biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. Governments can therefore continue to rely on UNEP's catalytic and consensus-building capacities and scientific, technical and policy expertise to forge agreements to address some of the issues I have mentioned.
The challenge of ensuring food security early in the next millennium is not simple, but it is a challenge which can be met. The United Nations Environment Programme hopes that this Summit will galvanize and sustain action at all levels to make rapid progress in achieving food security for all. It is my sincere hope that this World Food Summit will serve as a vital link between those who possess the resources, the techniques and the vision to alleviate hunger and those who are poor and hungry.