Top UN officials issue call for urgent action to help world’s hungry

23 October 2008

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto appealed for swift measures to help the world’s poor who have been hit hardest during this time of financial, food and fuel crises, as United Nations Headquarters observed World Food Day today.

“While the international community is focused on turmoil in the global economy, I am extremely concerned that not enough is being done to help those who are suffering most: the poorest of the poor,” Mr. Ban said at an event to mark the Day – which falls annually on 16 October – in New York.

He stressed that the root causes of the crisis have yet to be addressed. “The current difficulties will only intensify if we fail to take resolute action now,” he said.

The Secretary-General pointed out that food prices have increased five-fold in some parts of Haiti and Ethiopia, with families’ ability to buy much-needed food threatened by the current financial upheaval.

Over 900 million people worldwide suffer from hunger and under-nutrition, he said, calling for “strong political” will to tackle the issue and save lives.

“We have to confront these problems head-on,” Mr. Ban emphasized.

The Assembly President said there is a “fresh awakening” to the need for action to be taken on a global scale, with the UN – in spite of its “shortcomings” – spearheading the effort.

“It has taken decades of failed development policies to realize that we must put people first, that we must listen to the voices of people most affected by the poverty that is shocking in its global dimensions,” Mr. D’Escoto said.

“The top-down approach has enabled lopsided development and outrageous abuses.”

The President called on Member States to rise above “narrowly defined national interests,” appealing to them to help all people and nations.

“I reiterate my appeal to donor countries that, rather than reducing assistance to developing countries, they should triple the funds available to avoid prolonged human catastrophes,” he added.

The gathering also heard from Leo Mérorès, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), who warned of the “widening gap” between the wealthy and poor, which could have broad social consequences if emergency steps are not taken now.

Former United States President Bill Clinton, who served as keynote speaker at the event, emphasized that the world should stop using the current financial turbulence as an “excuse” to not take action on rising hunger.

“Food is not a commodity like others,” he said, calling for a return to a policy of maximum agricultural self-sufficiency.

Mr. Clinton, who runs a global foundation bearing his name, said that “it is crazy for us to think we can develop of a lot of these countries where I work without increasing their capacity to feed themselves and treating food like it was a colour television set.”

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