20 September 2004


Press Briefing

press conference on world summit for action against hunger

Declaring that the fight against hunger had once and for all been recognized as a political problem and a political priority, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva this evening applauded the governments, organizations, as well as private sector and civil society representatives who had come together for today’s Summit of World Leaders for the Action against Hunger and Poverty.

On the eve of the General Assembly’s annual debate, President Lula and his fellow members of the “Quintet against Hunger” –- the leaders of France, Chile and Spain, as well as United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan -– rallied representatives of 110 Member States, including the more than 50 heads of State and government present, to adopt the New York Declaration on the Action against Hunger and Poverty.  They underscored their determination to act against those scourges and reaffirmed the pivotal role played therein by the United Nations and its agencies, funds and programmes.

In the four years since the Millennium Declaration’s adoption, many world leaders had joined the Secretary-General to warn that some nations -– particularly the least developed ones -– were in danger of falling short of the original 2015 deadline to halve extreme poverty and hunger and boost access to education and development.

One year since the collapse of the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancun, Mexico, those signing today’s Declaration lamented the economically irrational, politically unacceptable and morally shameful situation in which 20,000 people continued to die each day from hunger-related causes and urged collective efforts to ensure that by the 2005 mid-term review, the international community had truly progressed down the road to fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals.

To that end, the Quintet had established a Technical Group on Innovative Financing Mechanisms, whose report served as the basis of today’s discussion.  Among the panoply of mechanisms to increase aid flows, the report numbered taxation of financial transactions, taxation of the arms trade, creation of an International Financial Facility through which States could securitize their increases in future official development assistance (ODA) on the bond markets, Special Drawing Rights for financing development, international action against tax evasion and tax havens, increasing the benefits of remittances, establishing a mechanism for voluntary contributions through credit cards and the creation of “ethical funds” providing opportunities for socially responsible investing.

Commenting upon the afternoon discussion of the Technical Group’s report, President Jacques Chirac of France said a major movement against hunger and poverty had manifested itself in international public opinion, while the highest leaders of international financial institutions –- including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank –- had clearly shown that the proposals suggested were technically feasible and politically desirable.

As Chilean President Ricardo Lagos Escobar stressed, the day’s debate had focused upon specific measures that could be translated into action.  The final document demonstrated the will to move forward and offered a menu of options.

It was now clear that the international community faced a major challenge in the next 12 months:  some of the options presented today would have to be implemented so that stock could be taken at the 2005 mid-term review.  Yet, there should be no doubt that the effort set in motion today gave grounds for optimism about what could be done between now and 12 months hence.

That note of optimism was echoed by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who stressed that many of the world’s citizens already gave far more than 0.7 per cent of their personal wherewithal to the fight against poverty.  Moreover, in New York, a climate of mobilization had emerged in which many countries were ready to say “enough already of hunger, of poverty, of indifference”.

Emphasizing the feeling that today’s declaration marked a departure from past practice, President Lula stressed that the time when poor countries demanded from the rich and the rich spread their aid policies out thinly must not be repeated.  Instead, the situation was now that no matter how poor a country was, each should take responsibility to do its maximum to fight poverty and hunger and to encourage development.  “It would be difficult to demand that any rich citizen or worker in a rich country make a donation to help a poor country without a clear understanding of where their money would go”, he noted.

Asked about the opposition by some to options such as the taxation of financial transactions or of the arms trade, the four leaders recalled that political policies were subject to change.  As pointed out by President Chirac, no country could victoriously defend a position that had already been approved by 110 countries and would undoubtedly be supported by 150 overall.  Implementation of such taxation schemes would undoubtedly be complicated, they agreed, but there would be discussion of the conditions under which the proposals would become acceptable.  In the end, suggested President Lagos, those proposals which appeared toughest to implement at present might well be the best implemented further down the road.

There were two sides to the equation, he added.  Efficient and accountable use of existing resources could make it easier to convince people to provide fresh resources.  Ending hunger and poverty was an objective that required major effort by all.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.