UN expert urges speedy action to fight global hunger

23 October 2002

Voicing outrage that millions of people around the world still suffer from hunger, a United Nations expert has urged speedy action by governments and the UN system to meet the target of cutting the number of chronically malnourished people in half.

“Every seven seconds, a child under the age of 10 dies from hunger directly or indirectly every year,” Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on the right to food, writes in a new report to the UN General Assembly.

Mr. Ziegler says the most disappointing conclusion of a recent summit on food security was that little progress has been made in reducing hunger, despite the commitments made by countries in 1996 to halve worldwide levels. The only small victory of the “World Food Summit: five years later” meeting was the recognition of the right to food, “as a stronger concept than food security, as this makes addressing hunger a legal obligation, not just a policy choice,” he adds. Governments also agreed in the final Declaration to prepare a set of voluntary guidelines for the realization of the right to food.

In a bid to spur greater action, the Special Rapporteur recommends that governments be held more accountable to the voluntary guidelines on the right to adequate food proposed in the Summit’s final Declaration.

“More than 815 million people still suffer from hunger and chronic malnourishment, and 36 million people die from hunger directly or indirectly every year,” Mr. Ziegler points out, blaming this in part on the failure to question the impact of the current market-fundamentalist model and emphasis on trade-based food security.

The Special Rapporteur suggests that the “profound internal contradictions within the United Nations system and in the actions of certain States” be reviewed. “The obligations of States towards the populations of other countries, particularly their right to food, must be recognized,” he says. “This suggests, for example, that trade relationships must be examined to ensure that the trade policy of one nation does not have negative effects on the right to food of people in other countries.”

He also proposes giving greater attention to the alternative models proposed by global civil society if hunger in the world is to be seriously addressed, including the concept of food sovereignty, which puts the right to food above all other concerns, including international trade.

“Each day that passes means the premature death, or the physical and mental deterioration, of women, children and men as a direct result of hunger and malnutrition,” he observes. “In a world that is overflowing with riches and food, this is a scandal.”

 

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