Panama urges UN to declare global state of emergency to confront food crisis

Panamanian President Martín Torrijos Espino

23 September 2008 – Panamanian President Martín Torrijos Espino today called on the United Nations General Assembly to declare a global state of emergency to confront the crisis of soaring food prices by mobilizing all governmental forces, private initiative and international organizations to save millions of people from the jaws of poverty.

“In the constitution of nearly every State, the declaration of a state of emergency exists as a mechanism to confront imminent dangers to national security,” he told the Assembly’s annual debate. “I am convinced that in light of food prices we are now face to face with a threat to social peace and the General Assembly could declare it as such.”

He noted that in the past few days hundreds of billions of dollars have been put forward to save commercial enterprises while indifference surrounds the deaths each year of 5.6 million children under five as a direct or indirect result of malnutrition.

“They have not died because of terrorist acts which we all abhor, nor because of acts of nature which we all lament,” he said. “They died for a reason as simple as it is tragic: they were poor.”

Mr. Torrijos added that the food crisis could not be separated from climate change and he called for the development of more efficient alternatives to fossil fuels, such as wind and solar power.

“So that the response should be a lasting and sustainable solution and not a temporary palliative, we must tackle both problems without any more delay, the food crisis and climate change, in an integral, comprehensive and coherent manner,” he declared.

Guyana’s President Bharrat Jagdeo said the food crisis posed grave problems for the poorest inhabitants of developing countries and threatened to undermine recent improvements in nutrition and health indicators in those nations.

The international community must urgently introduce new measures, including an increase in agricultural production, if it is to stave off widespread starvation, he said, adding that agriculture has to be central to poverty reduction strategies.

Mr. Jagdeo stressed the need for stronger safety nets to be developed so that the poor continue to have access to food and maintain basic nutrition levels through the current crisis.

“It is also urgently necessary for large developed countries to re-examine ways in which current inefficient and distortionary trade policies, particularly subsidies that support inefficient domestic production and tariffs that protect against more competitive imports, can be restructured to reduce distortions in the global marketplace,” he said.

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