20 June 2003, Rome -- "The right to food is fundamental to human existence," FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said today in a key note speech at the opening of a two-day International Conference on the Right to Food and the Costs of Hunger.

Organized by the International Jacques Maritain Institute and the National Committee for the relations between the Italian Government and FAO in scientific cooperation with LUMSA University, the conference will formulate recommendations on the right to food to be taken into consideration by the Intergovernmental Working Group responsible for the elaboration of Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realization of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security.

"The right to food is the right of every fellow human being to live in dignity," Dr. Diouf said.

He recalled that at the 1996 World Food Summit and at the World Food Summit: five years later, in 2002, Heads of State and Government reaffirmed the right of every person to have access to safe and nutritious food and pledged to cut by half the number of hungry by 2015.

Dr. Diouf regretted "the lack of political will to address hunger frontally" and "the failure to recognise the enormous global cost of not eradicating hunger," but said that despite slow progress made in hunger reduction since 1996, "we are seeing the tide begin to turn."

FAO Director-General indicated that since 2002, "over 20 countries have approached FAO for help in the design and implementation of nationwide food security programmes through which they will seek to attain, within their borders, the World Food Summit goal.

Dr. Diouf lauded Brazil for its comprehensive Zero Hunger Programme "which is now gathering momentum, supported not just by the Government but also by civil society at large."

He added that "Brazil's leadership seems bound to inspire other nations to strengthen their commitment to eradicate hunger."

Commenting on the costs of hunger, Dr. Diouf said: "Widespread hunger and malnutrition impair the economic performance not only of individuals and families, but of nations. Studies of selected Asian countries have estimated conservatively that the combined effect of stunting, iodine deficiency and iron deficiency was to reduce GDP by 2 to 4 per cent per year."

Dr. Diouf also said that "recent calculations by FAO suggest that achieving the World Food Summit goal of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 would yield a value of more than $120 billion."

FAO's Director-General stressed that hunger reduction strategies should include two major elements: food security programmes which empower poor rural households, most of which depend directly or indirectly on agriculture, and social safety nets for those who are unable to produce or buy adequate food.

"We believe, therefore, that getting rid of hunger is not simply a moral imperative and the fulfilment of international legal obligations concerning the right to food but that it also makes economic sense. We also believe strongly that it lies with human capacity to ensure that everyone can enjoy the right to food," Dr. Diouf said.
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