FAO Goodwill Ambassador Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel Prize for Medicine and Senator of the Italian Republic, delivers a statement on the occasion of World Water Day held at FAO Headquarters in March 2007
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1. Professor, in many respects the world has made huge progress in fighting hunger and poverty since the Second World War. But despite the spectacular advances of science and technology in the last 20 years to improve food production, including genetic engineering, the number of hungry has increased to almost one billion. Do you think there is any real hope of eliminating hunger in the next 5 to 15 years?
Answer: Chronic malnutrition produces irreversible consequences for physical, intellectual and psychological development, especially in the early stages of life. In the less developed countries, population, economic and environmental pressures are making it increasingly hard to survive, causing mass outmigration. Urgent international measures are needed to create the conditions under which people burdened by poverty and oppression can live in dignity in their own countries, and under which migration is just one of the options. Worldwide commitment to this issue is the only way to tackle the scourge of hunger.
2. Do you see the present economic crisis is an opportunity for governments or as a threat in dealing with hunger and food insecurity?
Answer: At the UN Millennium Summit of 2000, the heads of state of 191 countries established a global agreement that set out eight Millennium Development Goals, including the eradication of extreme poverty and therefore hunger. The agreed deadline for the targets was 2015. But with the current economic crisis, the goals will almost certainly not be met and, even though vitally important, it is easy to envisage their failure, which would have disastrous consequences not only for the poorer countries, but for the world as a whole.
3. How do you see FAO's future role?
Answer: FAO has a fundamental role to play in tackling food insecurity which has seen an increase in people suffering from hunger in recent years. FAO should insist on the accountability of governments which often seem to be even indifferent to the scourge of hunger. FAO should always heed the necessities of human life, especially when these are restricted by living conditions that prevent a dignified existence; at the same time, FAO should encourage the use of different agricultural techniques, according to people's needs.
4. Do you think that humanity and human activity are responsible for climate change?
Answer: The crises bedevilling modern society and our way of living and thinking, of producing, consuming and wasting have led to the depletion and degradation of nature and to complete indifference to the tragic problems of the developing world. Today's growing alarm seeks to pin the blame for the dangers looming upon us on a number of sectors, including science. But, when denouncing the dangers stemming from scientific progress, we need to make it clear that it is not scientific progress that is to blame but our mistaken use of that progress.
5. You have established a foundation to help young African women get better education and have greater prospects of employment in their home countries. How important is the role of women in building food security? Do you think women are the key to future economic prosperity in the developing countries? And in the development countries?
Answer: The aim of the Rita Levi Montalcini Onlus Foundation, which I head, is to enable women living in the countries of the South, especially in Africa, to access all levels of education, from primary school to university and post-university. So far we have awarded some 7000 study fellowships to young women in different African countries, where access to education is denied to virtually the whole female population. The denial of this right is the root cause of the tragic conditions in which they live and which are reflected in their entire family and society. The costs of gender discrimination are higher in low-income economies, where women make up a large proportion of the workforce in rural economies and food production. We have seen that women are often more capable of interacting with their surrounding circumstances, more willing to accept change, to understand the needs of younger generations and how to involve them in improving the quality of life
6. Your 100 years of life have been incredibly rich in events, results, successes and you have also been able to influence policy. What has given you the most satisfaction?
Answer: Apart from the discovery of the protein capable of stimulating nerve tissue growth (Nerve Growth Factor) for which I received the Noble Prize, I was very honoured in 2001 to be appointed senator for life by the President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. I consider that recognition more important than the prize I received in Stockholm, because it was awarded by my own country.