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World Food Day reminder of daily crisis borne by millions, say UN officials

World Food Day reminder of daily crisis borne by millions, say UN officials

Josette Sheeran, WFP Executive Director
As the eyes of the world continue to watch the ups and downs of global markets amid the current financial turmoil, United Nations officials are calling attention today to another global crisis – hunger – which affects millions daily and kills a child every six seconds.

“This year’s World Food Day comes at a time of crisis,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states in his message for the occasion. “Global financial turmoil is exacerbating concerns about rising food and fuel costs, which have already driven 75 million people deeper into the abyss of hunger and poverty.”

Mr. Ban notes that this “colossal human tragedy” is unfolding as the world fights to keep the promise made in the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) – to reduce hunger and poverty by half by the year 2015.

Even before prices started rising, 800 million people were going to sleep hungry every night, the Secretary-General points out. And now, with energy costs rising and the price of food having more than doubled in the past year alone, an additional 100 million people could be pushed into hunger and poverty.

“These are life-and-death matters that we must confront with serious thought and resolute action,” he adds, calling on Governments, organizations and citizens to forge meaningful partnerships to overcome these challenges so the world can meet all the MDGs and, ultimately, usher in a world free of hunger and poverty.

The head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) agreed that at a time when the world’s attention is consumed by the financial crisis, it is appropriate to focus today on the global hunger crisis, which is a daily reality for families across the globe.

“Rapidly rising food shortages, dramatic increases in fuel costs, and profound changes in climate conditions conspired this year to bring new dimensions of suffering and hardship to the poor, depriving almost one billion people of the food they need to live a healthy life,” Executive Director Josette Sheeran said in her message for the Day.

“On this day, we remember those who have lived with the ache of hunger, for too long . . . and who now need our help even more,” she added.

World Food Day is observed annually on 16 October, the day on which the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was founded in 1945. At a ceremony today at FAO headquarters in Rome, Director-General Jacques Diouf called for a political and financial push to boost sustainable agriculture in the world’s poor countries, double global food production and free the world of hunger and malnutrition.

“I wish to reaffirm that we know what needs to be done to eradicate the hunger of 923 million people in the world. We also know what needs to be done to double world food production and feed a population that is expected to rise to 9 billion people by 2050.”

He noted that $22 billion was pledged to promote global food security earlier this year, but that only 10 per cent of this has so far materialized – mainly for emergency food aid.

“What we need ... is political will and delivery on financial commitments, if we are to be able to make the essential investments that are needed to promote sustainable agricultural development and food security in the poorest countries of the world,” he stated.

Describing the situation of hunger in the world as “alarming,” the independent UN expert on the right to food has called for a new production system to tackle the global food crisis.

In a message to mark the Day, UN Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter states that “the violation on a daily basis of the right to food for hundreds of millions of people worldwide has its roots in an outdated and inadequate production system, rather than in the actual quantity of food available.

“But there is hope in this crisis,” he adds. “Indeed, if the right choices are made now, this shock may even prove salutary, for it provides governments and international agencies with an opportunity to learn from what happened.”

Among the activities planned in over 150 countries to mark this year’s World Food Day is the popular Run for Food, which will take place in Rome on 19 October involving 4,000 people with a similar event to be held on the same day in Milan.

Other major events are also planned in Albania, Egypt, Morocco, Republic of Korea and a number of Asian and Latin American countries during this month. Former United States President Bill Clinton will participate in a World Food Day ceremony at UN headquarters in New York on 23 October.