The United Nations today marked this year's World Food Day under the theme "Fight Hunger to Reduce Poverty" to highlight the need for concerted efforts by all countries, rich and poor, to combat the threats presented by the two blights.
In a statement issued in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said hunger stunted people's capacity for productivity and growth. "We must end this cycle of misery," he said. "We must combine concerted political will and innovative policies with investment in agriculture and rural development, as well as social safety nets."
Mr. Annan urged Member States to mobilize renewed political and financial commitment to meeting the goal of halving world hunger by 2015.
Around the world, activities for the Day, traditionally observed on 16 October, included a global teach in, a concert and a news conference in Rome detailing the extent of global hunger.
At a ceremony at the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), speakers included Germany's President Johannes Rau and Italy's Minister of Agriculture Gianni Alemanno. A message was also delivered from the Vatican relaying the Pope's concerns. Belgium's Queen Fabiola was awarded the Ceres Medal in recognition of her work to promote the rights of rural women in developing countries.
FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf, pointed out that this year's theme had been selected because of the intricate connection between hunger and poverty. "Fighting hunger is a moral obligation," he said. "Without biological integrity of the human being which requires his daily bread, there can be no real and lasting progress in the struggle for more justice and equity in the world."
Germany's President Johannes Rau said tackling hunger was "not a hopeless task." Just twenty years ago, 29 per cent of people in the so-called developing countries were malnourished. Today the figure is 18 percent, although the world's population has increased dramatically, he said.
"In the rich countries of the North no one can seriously believe that he can live permanently on an island of prosperity surrounded by a sea of sorrow and suffering," Mr. Rau said. "That is why it is in the rich countries' very own interests to fight hunger. Barbed wire and walls are no response to refugee flows, to poverty and suffering."