UN agencies urge G8 leaders to step up to the plate on African hunger, global warming

UN agencies urge G8 leaders to step up to the plate on African hunger, global warming

As leaders of the world’s richest nations gathered for the G8 Summit, United Nations agencies urged them today to rise to the challenge of the two main issues on their agenda – aid to Africa and global warming – reminding them that hunger is the world’s biggest killer and calling for even deeper cuts in greenhouse gases.

“Remember a simple fact: hunger and malnutrition are still the world’s biggest killers, taking the lives of more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined,” the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement ahead of the summit opening in Gleneagles, United Kingdom.

“Nowhere is this more apparent than in Africa, where forgotten conflicts and hidden disasters continue to expose millions to the scourge of hunger. One African in three is malnourished and there has been little sign of change in that over the last decade,” it added.

“Hunger is a symptom of failure – failed harvests, failure to cope with natural disasters, and failure to overcome social inequities, ethnic strife and racial hatred.”

Citing a litany of enormous challenges, WFP noted that in Africa alone, it is together with its partners to deliver emergency food to 26 million people in more than 20 different countries.

In southern Sudan, where civilians are finally returning home after decades of war, its operations are still less than half funded; in southern Africa, where the triple threat of HIV/AIDS, drought and weak government capacity threaten the lives of at least 8 million people, it has received less than 20 per cent of the requested funding; in Niger and Mali, where a lethal combination of locust infestation and drought has left hundreds of thousands hungry, less than a third of the $11 million needed has been received.

“While there have been encouraging signs of increased aid commitments from donor governments, the food aid component, which is so critical in Africa, is falling short,” WFP said. “Food is the ‘first aid’ solution to Africa’s problems. It brings hope in often turbulent circumstances, and stabilizes regions so there is an opportunity to work on longer-term humanitarian and political solutions.”

For its part the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reiterated calls for a new effort to move beyond targets and timetables agreed under the Kyoto treaty against global warming towards the even deeper cuts in greenhouse gases necessary to stabilize the world’s climate.

Of the summit participants only the United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under which industrialized countries are to reduce their combined emissions of six major greenhouse gases during the five-year period from 2008 to 2012 to below 1990 levels.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said he hoped the G8 leaders would send a strong and determined message on climate change which is “the spectre at the feast capable of undermining all our goals.”

He also urged them to back investments in nature to defeat poverty and deliver economic development. “Targeted investments in the planet’s ecosystems and the services they provide will give a high rate of return in terms of fighting poverty, hunger and disease and delivering long-lasting economic improvements,” he said in a statement.

He cited the link between a damaged environment and malaria, noted that many illnesses affecting people in developing countries are water borne, and called for giving full economic value to tropical forests in developing nations, which economists now put at $60 billion in terms of the greenhouse gases they absorb and store.