At UN food summit, Ban lays out steps to save billions from hunger

Inaugural ceremony of the World Summit on Food Security.

16 November 2009 – A three-day United Nations summit on world food security opened in Rome today, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warning that on this day alone more than 17,000 children will die of hunger – one every five seconds, 6 million a year – even as the planet has more than enough food for all.

“Today, more than one billion people are hungry,” he told the assembled leaders, calling for immediate action on long-term remedies, a day after he himself fasted for 24 hours in solidarity with all those billion. “It was not easy. But, for too many people, it is a daily reality.”

The leaders unanimously adopted a declaration pledging renewed commitment to eradicate hunger from the face of the earth sustainably and at the earliest date. They agreed to work to reverse the decline in domestic and international funding for agriculture, promote new investment, and proactively face the challenges of climate change to food security.

Mr. Ban laid out a full, comprehensive spectrum of measures to combat a scourge gravely exacerbated by climate change and population growth that will see two billion more mouths to feed in 2050 – 9.1 billion in all – with an overall need to grow 70 per cent more food.

The steps range from immediate needs such as food aid, safety nets and social protection to the longer-term goals achieved through increased investments in agricultural development, including provision of seeds, water supplies and land to ensure higher productivity, better market access, and fairer trade, above all for smallholder farmers, especially women.

“These smallholder farmers are the heart and soul of food security and poverty reduction,” Mr. Ban declared. “We must resist protectionism and end subsidies that distort markets. This, ladies and gentlemen, lies at the core of food security. Our job is not just to feed the hungry, but to empower the hungry to feed themselves.”

He warned of a chain reaction over the past year that threatens the very foundations of life for millions of people, with rising energy prices driving up food costs and eating away the savings that would otherwise be spent on health care or education.

“It is a vicious cycle that impoverishes not only its immediate victims but all people,” he said. “Millions of families have been pushed into poverty and hunger. Suffering on this scale spills over borders. It sets back development and undercuts social order, as we well know. Over the past year and a half, food insecurity led to political unrest in some 30 countries.”

But it is not enough just to deal with the crisis when it arrives, even though the world responded with the greatest-ever food aid, pledging funding and improved policies at various summits, and even worse potential damage was averted.

“Because the underlying problems persist, we will continue to experience such crises, again and again – unless we act,” Mr. Ban said. “The food crisis of today is a wake-up call for tomorrow.”

He stressed the inter-relationship between the food and global warming crises, pleading for agreement at next month’s climate change summit in Copenhagen on curbing greenhouse gas emissions to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

The melting of Himalayan glaciers would affect the livelihoods and survival of 300 million people in China and up to 1 billion people throughout Asia, while Africa's small farmers, who produce most of the continent's food and depend mostly on rain, could see harvests drop by 50 per cent by 2020, he warned.

“Today’s event is critical. So is the climate change conference in Copenhagen next month. There can be no food security without climate security,” Mr. Ban declared. “They must produce results – real results for people in real need, results for the one billion people who are hungry today, real results so millions more will not have to suffer when the next shock hits.

“The world is impatient for us to make a difference. I, too, am impatient. And I am committed.”

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf said eliminating hunger require $44 billion of official development assistance (ODA) per year to be invested in infrastructure, technology and modern inputs.

“It is a small amount if we consider the $365 billion of agriculture producer support [subsidies] in OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries in 2007, and if we consider the $1,340 billion of military expenditures by the world in the same year,” he added.

UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran told a First Ladies’ summit in Rome yesterday that empowering women, who do much of the agricultural work in the developing world, was vital. “Women are the secret weapon to fight hunger,” she said.

She called on 700 million women who have enough food to contribute 1 euro a week to the 700 million women who are hungry as part of WFP’s “Billion for a Billion” Citizens’ Action Campaign. Launching an online version of the campaign (www.wfp.org/1billion) on Saturday, she said: “Now you can fill the cup of a hungry child with a simple click of a mouse. If a billion internet users donate a dollar or a euro a week, we can literally transform the live of a billion hungry people across the world.”

At a news conference later in the day, Mr. Ban said he remained positive about Copenhagen, citing much convergence in the areas of adaptation, technology and capacity building. “I am fighting for a real deal in Copenhagen, a deal that paves the way for a binding global climate treaty,” he stressed.

Also today, he visited WFP headquarters to pay tribute to the five colleagues recently killed in Pakistan. He has also held bilateral meetings with a number of leaders, including the Brazilian, Chilean, Egyptian, Italian, Libyan and Tanzanian presidents.


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