26 October 2007


26 October 2007
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


There was enough food on the planet to feed 12 billion people, almost double the current world population, yet worldwide hunger was growing and the causes were all man-made, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, said today at a Headquarters Press Conference in New York.

A child died from malnutrition or related causes every five seconds, he said, adding that “every child who dies from hunger is assassinated” because it could have been prevented.

The position of Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food was established in 2000 by the former Human Rights Commission, as a human rights mechanism of the United Nations.  Mr. Ziegler was appointed in September of that year.

He explained that the right to food is defined, according to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as “the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear”.

That right was violated in many parts of the world, Mr. Ziegler said, highlighting the unnecessary growth in hunger worldwide and the resulting refugee problem, as well as the negative impact on hunger when biofuel production replaced food production.  One hundred thousand people around the world died daily from hunger-related causes, and one in six were gravely or permanently undernourished.

Yet, he said, when those fleeing starvation, particularly from Africa, tried to cross borders to save their lives, they were frequently turned back through military intervention.  He appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council to declare the protection of refugees fleeing hunger as a human right, and he called for the establishment of the provisional right to stay in a country with adequate food supply, during time of famine in a refugee’s home country.

The creation of “pure fuels” or biofuels to protect the environment and reduce oil dependence was not a bad idea, but its negative impact on hunger would be catastrophic, Mr. Ziegler said.  When tons of maize, wheat, beans and other food staples were converted to fuel, food prices rose and arable land was lost to food production.  Last year, the price of wheat doubled and of maize quadrupled.

He said that, currently, 31 of 53 African States had to import food.  As prices rose, the poorest countries could not pay, and the poorest people, generally living without access to subsistence farming, could not purchase more expensive foodstuffs.  The amount of corn that needed to be burned to make enough ethanol to fill a single car’s fuel tank could fill a child for an entire year.

Warning that converting arable land to pure fuel production was a crime against humanity, he called for a 5-year moratorium on such activity.  He offered the use of non-food agricultural products that could grow in soil unfit for food production as an alternative source of biofuels, citing a project in Rajasthan, India, where the Mercedes company was growing jatropha for biodiesel in arid land.  Following a moratorium, such projects could be evaluated and new fuels produced.

In response to questions, he noted the impact of conflict and sanctions on hunger, calling sanctions an “inefficient means” to remove tyrants from power.  However, it was only the citizens, and not the leadership, who suffered from the sanctions, he said, noting that 500,000 people had died from hunger-related causes due to the sanctions that had been imposed against Iraq.  He also drew attention to the situations in Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

To questions concerning the effectiveness of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme, he praised their activities, noting, for example, that the World Food Programme supplied fresh water, basic medications and foodstuffs to refugees in Darfur every morning.  However, he said that, owing to rising food costs, the United States had reduced its contribution the World Food Programme by half this year.

He also addressed the complexities European countries faced when confronted with the problem of refugees fleeing famine, using an example from Spain.  The newspaper El Pais presented photographs daily of African refugees fleeing to the Canary Islands in small boats, with many drowning or being turned back.  Public opinion was outraged, yet, if the Government were to respond by admitting those refugees, growing anti-immigration forces would be further strengthened, leading to greater anti-immigrant sentiment.

In countries where people did not face a daily battle against hunger, the publicwas only aware of the environmental benefits of biofuels, he said.  In order for every human being on the planet to enjoy the right to food, however, it was essential to raise public awareness of the devastating effects conversion to biofuels would have on large segments of the global population, so that they might put pressure on their Governments to support the right to food.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.