From the podium

From the podium

His Excellency Ambassador Alessandro Quaroni (Secretary General for International Affairs of the Soveriegn Order of Malta)

It is my privilege to address you today on behalf of the Sovereign Order of Malta. We welcome the initiative of the director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to convene a meeting at the highest levels of governments to accelerate the process of achieving the goals of the World Food Summit Plan of Action which were agreed to in 1996.

We believe that FAO is correct in its analysis when it points to a general lack of political will to solve the problem and provide the necessary financial means. We support the target to reduce the number of undernourished people by half, bringing it down to some 400 million no later than 2015, but we note that it is more a political compromise than a goal. In our view, 400 million hungry people are still too many and morally unacceptable. The Sovereign Order of Malta has given top priority to meeting the needs for improved food distribution and provision of better access to food for the poor. If people starve, this is not due to lack of available food but to unfair treatment, especially of the refugees, displaced persons and vulnerable populations and the incapacity to organize access to food and fund the needed support.

The Order is the world's oldest charitable institution, founded 900 years ago in Palestine, a precursor of the large international humanitarian agencies of our time. We are present now in over 110 countries, with 10 000 members and 80 000 permanent volunteers, backed up by a qualified staff of over 11 000 doctors and nurses, who devote themselves to serving the poor, the sick and the suffering. We run our own hospitals, medical centres, dispensaries, and dispatch fast relief teams in all four continents. We are particularly active in Africa where we have four general hospitals (in Benin, Togo, Senegal and Madagascar) and numerous dispensaries. In Latin America, our activities are also broad ranging, from assisting children in the favelas of Brazil to the populations hit by hurricane Mitch in Central America. In Europe, the Emergency Corps of the Order of Malta (ECOM) has expanded its presence to address not only natural disasters but also complex emergencies.

Today, in carrying out its mission, the Order is keenly alert to the changing needs borne of poverty, illness, conflict and natural disasters. We increasingly seek to respond to longer-term problems, as was the case recently in the Balkans and currently in Africa, where we have programmes to assist women and children affected by AIDS. We are also moving beyond food to address problems of water supply: most recently, in Afghanistan, in Ethiopia and in India where we are assisting the victims of the recent earthquake.

As a subject of international public law, the Order maintains diplomatic relations at embassy level with 90 States; and at Permanent Representative level with the European commission and a number of other Governments, as well as maintaining Observer Missions to the United Nations and to most international organizations.

To-day the Sovereign Order of Malta has a policy of active relations with the major international organizations involved in humanitarian work as well as with the concerned national authorities. In this context, the Order of Malta aims to play a more active role in the consultation and planning process, to which it can contribute its extensive experience. Where possible and useful, it aims to co-ordinate its own activities with those of the United Nations and European Union agencies, and, together develop forms of collaboration and partnership. We look forward to working with the United Nations agencies in Rome: FAO, the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD).

To conclude, we would like to point to the personal commitment and the willingness of the Order's numerous members and volunteers, and to its private and public donors, without whom nothing sustainable could be achieved.

*Statement inserted in the verbatim report on request.

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