16 July 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

press conference on global food security, influenza a (h1n1)

 


Last week’s pledge by global leaders to mobilize $20 billion for sustainable agricultural development in three years was a major boon for food security worldwide, particularly as the World Food Programme (WFP) grappled with a major funding shortfall, the Senior United Nations System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza and Coordinator of the High-level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis said today.


“When you look at the figures, it represents a doubling in the commitment of developed nations to what has to be done in the area of food security and agriculture,” David Nabarro said at a Headquarters news conference.  In making the pledge during the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, political leaders had committed to a full range of food security issues, from tackling hunger, which had surged because of the global economic crisis ‑‑ particularly among women and children in poor countries ‑‑ to increasing investment in agriculture for the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers, especially women farmers, to ensuring that agricultural trade benefited the least developed countries and their citizens.


That was a marked shift from the response to the 1974 food crisis, which had focused solely on industrializing agriculture and maximizing productivity, he said.  “This time we’re seeing it as an investment both in production and in the empowerment and well-being of the people who produce the food and their communities.”  The funding was especially crucial as the WFP ‑‑ the world’s leading anti-famine mechanism, which had posted a record income of $5 billion in 2008 ‑‑ had seen its coffers dwindle to one third of the funds required to ensure adequate emergency food aid in 2009.


Accompanying Mr. Nabarro was Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning, who also hailed the G-8 pledges, as well as the emerging political consensus on food security as a top global priority.  With an estimated 1 billion people worldwide suffering from hunger and poverty, the Secretary-General’s proposals on food security, the work of his High-level Task Force and Comprehensive Framework for Action were explicitly acknowledged in the G-8 statement issued during its 10 July Working Session on Food Security.


“For the UN and the UN’s work at bringing all the players together, to be recognized in that setting is actually very significant,” Mr. Orr said, adding that the text also embraced the Secretary-General’s proposal to promote global health and support developing countries, as well as the world’s most vulnerable people with respect to antiviral medicines, vaccines and other preventive measures to fight influenza A (H1N1).


Mr. Nabarro noted the importance of that support, emphasizing that, while H1N1 had resulted in few deaths in the developed world, it would likely cause much suffering in poorer countries, which spent far less on public health-care services and were constrained by a greater scale of disease and health risks.  The Secretary-General and Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), were working to help poorer nations bolster their ability to access medicines and vaccines in the event of an H1N1 outbreak.  They were also analysing gaps and needs to ensure adequate support was available by September.


Responding to concerns about the G-8 leaders fulfilling their pledges, given their poor record on meeting past commitments to mitigate climate change, Mr. Nabarro stressed the importance of addressing the links between climate change and food security when adopting strategies to protect poor people against rain and floods.  Mr. Orr added that, during the Summit, G-8 leaders had issued their first preliminary accountability report on their own pledges and would release their first fully fledged report at the next Summit, to be held in Canada.


As for the status of an H1N1 vaccine, Mr. Nabarro said new vaccines were being produced and WHO was issuing recommendations on who should receive them.  It was also providing grants to national laboratories for building vaccine-development capacity, and working to ensure that poor countries were able to get vaccines subjected to proper regulatory approval.


Concerning the WHO Director-General’s call for pharmaceutical companies to show solidarity with poor countries in terms of access to H1N1 vaccines, Mr. Nabarro said she and the Secretary-General were in talks with senior industry executives to ensure that a portion of all vaccines manufactured would be made available to least developed countries at extremely low prices.  In the next month or two, WHO would know the approximate number of vaccine doses to be made available to those countries, and it would work with Mr. Nabarro’s team in setting up a system to ensure ready access.


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For information media • not an official record