Food security major challenge for world’s poorest, Ban tells US students

15 June 2009

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a gathering at an American university that the daily reality for one third of the world’s population who live on less than $2 a day include decisions such as which of their children gets to eat.

“No one should face such choices. No one should face such privation, not in a world of such wealth,” Mr. Ban said in a wide-ranging speech at St. Louis University in Missouri last Friday.

Mr. Ban noted that one billion people around the world, known as the “bottom billion,” live on less than $1 a day and two billion live on less than $2 a day, and many if not most are children suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

“Imagine the price of food shooting upward, as it has done and is still doing,” said Mr. Ban. “Last year, the prices of staple foods nearly doubled in the space of a few months.”

He stressed that for the bottom billion – who already spend two-thirds of their income on food – that was a “tough blow.”

Some families ended up eating one meal a day instead of two, explained Mr. Ban, with some family members going without food. “Sometimes parents have to choose among their children as to who gets to eat, and who doesn’t.”

The Secretary-General said that children stop growing when they don’t eat and become too hungry to learn. “When older, they are too weak or undereducated to work to their full potential,” he added, and “whole societies become weak.”

He pointed out that families who spend more on food have less for health and education, beginning a social spiral which the whole society goes down.

“It is good that the UN’s World Food Programme [WFP] enjoys excellent ties with the United States and its farmers,” said Mr. Ban. “It is impossible to think we can succeed without the support of the United States.”

The challenge of food security must be addressed immediately, said Mr. Ban. “We need to strengthen agricultural infrastructure, increase productivity and do away with unfair terms of trade.”

The visit to St. Louis was part of the Secretary-General’s campaign to promote understanding of the UN and its pursuit of peace, security, development and human rights, which has taken him to a number of US cities, including Jackson Hole, Chicago and Atlanta.


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