United Against Hunger Campaign Offers Hope for the Hungry

ROME, Italy, October 18, 2010 (ENS) – Chronic hunger grips one in every seven people alive today. Every six seconds, a child dies from hunger-related causes and more than 200 million children suffer from undernutrition, according to the latest United Nations figures.

On the occasion of this year’s World Food Day, which falls every year on October 16, Pope Benedict XVI, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and Jacques Diouf, director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization called for global unity to take resolute and concrete actions against hunger by producing more food in the countries where hungry people live.

This year’s theme, United Against Hunger, seeks to rally all sectors of society to feed the world’s more than one billion hungry people. “Achieving food security is not the responsibility of one single party; it is the responsibility of all of us,” Dr. Diouf said.

“Responding properly to the hunger problem requires urgent, resolute and concerted action by all relevant actors and at all levels. It calls for the need for all of us to be united,” he said.

Eight-month-old Saminou weighed just four kg when he was admitted to a clinic in Aiguie, Niger, run by Save the Children with the support of UKaid. (Photo courtesy DFID)

Dr. Diouf launched an online petition to reflect the moral outrage of the situation. The “1 billion hungry project” reaches out to people through social media, inviting everyone to sign the anti-hunger petition at www.1billionhungry.org. To date, 1,612,027 people have signed the petition.

In a statement to the World Food Day ceremony in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Everyone – from individuals to the organizations of civil society, states and international institutions – needs to give priority to one of the most urgent goals for the human family: freedom from hunger.”

“An important step forward was the international community’s recent decision to protect the right to water which, as the FAO has always maintained, is essential to human nutrition, to rural activities and to the conservation of nature,” the Pope said.

President Kagame said, “Becoming self-sufficient in food production cannot be separated from good governance. In most developing countries, it remains the responsibility of government to create the right climate for farmers, especially smallholder farmers and allied agro-businesses. Ultimately, sustainable food security will be obtained within the overall framework of poverty eradication.”

Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development said, “Let us look at things from the angle of opportunities. People bemoan the fact that in Africa only six percent of land is irrigated or that the average level of fertilizer used in Africa is only one tenth of the world average.”

“Yet we know that 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa,” said Nwanze. “Imagine the potential, working with nearly 2.5 billion people working in agriculture in rural areas, the smallholders of the world, if properly harnessed.”

World Food Programme and its partners are providing a hot daily meal to some 655,000 school children across Haiti. The aim is to reach 800,000 children before the end of the year. (Photo by Rein Skullerud courtesy WFP)

Josette Sheeran, executive director of the world’s largest food aid agency, the UN’s World Food Programme, said, “I truly believe now is the time for us to turn our dreams of a world free of hunger into reality.”

“Nelson Mandela had a dream, Martin Luther King had a dream, and Mahatma Gandhi had a dream,” she said. “Now it is time for all of us to dream big and mobilize an unstoppable movement of humanity to act against the hunger that continues to condemn hundreds of millions of children to unfulfilled lives simply because they have not had access to nutritious food.”

In Des Moines, Iowa, Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General and chair of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, underlined the urgent need for a uniquely African green revolution to bring food security and overcome hunger throughout the continent.

In his speech on Thursday at the World Food Prize annual international symposium just ahead of World Food Day, Annan said, “Africa is the only continent which does not grow enough food to feed itself. It alone has failed, in recent decades, to see agricultural productivity keep pace with its growing population.”

The World Food Prize international symposium, informally known as the Borlaug Dialogue after Nobel Laureate and World Food Prize Founder Dr. Norman Borlaug, brings together the world’s foremost leaders in global agriculture, food, and development. In September, Annan was awarded the Norman E. Borlaug Medallion by the World Food Prize Foundation in recognition of his commitment to improving food security.

Annan said AGRA is helping to make “smallholder farming productive, profitable and sustainable” by “identifying, supporting and extending proven, local solutions for the benefits of farmers, particularly in those areas with the greatest potential to become Africa’s breadbaskets.”

Mediatrice Mukumurenzi harvests maize, in the Kamonyi district of Rwanda, July 2009. (Photo courtesy Trocaire)

“We cannot forget that, the women who produce most of Africa’s food are particularly disadvantaged economically and socially,” Annan said. “We need practical measures from field to market to remove these obstacles so they have a voice and a stake right through the value chain.”

Annan sees hope in the current climate of world opinion. “Never before has there been such a collective drive for change,” he said. “This encompasses civil society organizations, philanthropic foundations and multinational corporations. Food and nutrition security now sits firmly and rightly at the top of the development agenda.”

“And this unprecedented coalition is having an impact,” said Annan. “I saw some of this progress for myself when I recently visited farmers in Mali and heard from them the difference that access to high-yielding seeds and fertilizer are making to their livelihoods.”

There are still plenty of problems to be overcome. After her three-day visit to Niger, where half the population is in need of food assistance, the United Nations’ new top humanitarian official warned that the world must tackle the root causes of cyclical food crises in Africa’s Sahel region.

“Malnutrition is not due only to a lack of food, but it is also linked to disease, lack of clean water, lack of information,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos on World Food Day.

She also sounded a warning on Niger’s population growth. While the country’s population currently stands at 15 million, it is predicted to reach 50 million by 2050.

Calling for better family planning, Amos said such a surge is “unsustainable” given Niger’s current and projected food production capacity.

“Our common challenge,” said Amos, “is finding durable cross-cutting solutions that ensure that children survive their fifth birthday, grow into adults, and lead productive lives.”

Both Annan and Diouf say more development assistance is needed to fight hunger. “We have to resolutely reverse the long-term negative trend of the share of agriculture in official development assistance, which dropped from 19 percent in 1980 to three percent in 2006 and is now at around six percent,” said Diouf.

And the rich countries are responding to calls for help to feed the hungry.

Men from the Balochistan province of southwestern Pakistan cart home food rations with mules that were spared by this monsoon season’s floods. (Photo by Amjad Jamal courtesy WFP)

At the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit in September, world leaders devoted special attention to the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, including $22 billion in investments committed last year by the G-8 and G-20 industrialized countries, and noted a growing recognition among leaders of developing countries about the need to invest in food security.

In support of these efforts, the United States has pledged at least $3.5 billion over three years toward country-owned plans to improve food security, agricultural production, and nutrition, said Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

“Recent years have given rise to exceptional challenges for the world’s hungry, from a spike in global food prices in 2007 and 2008 to destabilizing events in countries like Pakistan and Haiti. But we have also seen unprecedented global action,” said Rice.

The Millennium Development Goals Summit served as the backdrop for the United States and Ireland to jumpstart the UN’s Scaling Up Nutrition framework, a strategy endorsed by 100 international partners to battle undernutrition.

Rice explained, “One plank of this framework, “1,000 Days: Change a Life, Change the Future,” is a joint commitment by developing countries, multilateral organizations, donor governments, civil society and the private sector to set concrete benchmarks that accelerate progress toward improving maternal and child nutrition from pregnancy through age two.”

“Combating hunger’s root causes serves America’s interests by serving the interests of all people,” said Rice. “This movement promises improvement in global standards of living, delivering higher returns for its investments; promotes broad-based economic growth; and reinforces our common security by investing in our common humanity.”

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