UN expert urges world governments to take real action to eradicate hunger

UN expert urges world governments to take real action to eradicate hunger

The top United Nations expert working to promote the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food expressed grave concern today that world leaders seemed totally indifferent to the reality that hunger and chronic malnutrition sentenced millions of people to early death and underdevelopment each year.

As the Commission on Human Rights began its annual review of economic, social and cultural rights, Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, was among a host of experts on health and education, on the illicit transport of toxic wastes, and on foreign debt and structural-adjustment policies who stressed the obligation of governments to protect inherent dignity and promote basic human rights.

Stressing that the right to food was a human right protected by international law, Mr. Ziegler said governments had three levels of legal obligation: to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food. Yet, the world appeared unmoved, "as every seven seconds, a child under 10 years of age died from the direct or indirect effects of hunger." The hungry were condemned to suffer a marginal existence passed down through generations.

"Even as we speak, the war on Iraq is having severe consequences on the right to food of the Iraqi people," the expert said, adding that the food crisis in southern Africa, Ethiopia and Eritrea - affecting millions and worsening by the day - continues to take a heavy toll on a continent already home to over 38 million of the world's people suffering from hunger and chronic malnourishment.

"All this is happening in a world that is richer than ever before and already produces more than enough food to feed the global population but seems totally indifferent to accomplishing that feat," Mr. Ziegler said, stressing that hunger is not a question of fate, but a question of human inaction. To that end, he noted that the June 2002 World Food Summit had been an outright failure - "a beggars' conference," with no one to beg, since the leaders of the major donor countries had not been present.

Still, there were some signs of hope. First, the Summit had created a working group to establish voluntary guidelines to clarify how the right to food might be implemented. Second, the UN body monitoring the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has issued a new "general comment" setting out the legal basis for the right to water. Mr. Ziegler said he believed that those two groundbreaking developments would strengthen understanding of the right to food around the world and engage governments in taking real action to eradicate hunger.