Few Scraps for Poor at Food Summit
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Scraps for Poor at Food Summit
IF YOU'RE wondering why hundreds of millions of people are starving around
the world, the United Nations food summit held earlier this week in Rome provides
some explanations: Indifference. Mismanagement. Hypocrisy.
All of which was nicely illustrated by the absence of Western leaders — with only
a couple of exceptions, they snubbed the meeting altogether — and by the lavish,
foie gras and lobster dinner enjoyed on the opening night by delegates
who did attend: leaders and monarchs from the developing world and mainly low-ranking
politicians from the world's wealthier nations.
But even that was overshadowed by the presence of Zimbabwean President Robert
Mugabe, who sidestepped a European Union travel ban to plead the case for his
famine-plagued nation — a situation created in part by the actions of his corrupt
and violent regime.
The Rome conference was a follow-up to the first U.N. World Food Summit in 1996,
when international leaders vowed to reduce the number of hungry people in the
world from 840 million to 400 million by 2015. After six years of what has become
an increasingly flagging effort, that original number is down by only 25 million.
According to the U.N., some 12.8 million people in six nations in Africa alone
are now at risk of starvation due to drought, floods, government mismanagement
and economic instability. Some 24,000 people continue to die each day from hunger
and 55 per cent of the 12 million child deaths each year are related to malnutrition.
To someone in the developed world, where fast food chains and mega-supermarkets
dominate cityscapes and where almost as much good food is thrown out as is eaten,
those numbers are staggering. As is the lack of political will on the part of
the developed world to ease the suffering caused by malnutrition and starvation.
For many developing nations, the ravages of bad weather, political instability
and corrupt or inept government is compounded by a combination of decreasing aid
packages and international trade policies that make it impossible for farmers
in smaller, poorer nations to compete.
International aid donations have actually dropped over the last decade. Of the
$112 billion spent internationally on development aid worldwide, just $17 billion
goes to agriculture. In fact, Africa receives 40 per cent less in aid for water,
crop seeds and other agricultural needs, than it did 10 years ago.
During that same period, aid recipients have acceded to increasingly demanding
economic reforms in order to receive assistance from donor nations. Yet often
they still have had their aid cut, even when they have met conditions set out
by the donor.
And, while recipients are subjected to various performance monitors to vouch for
their compliance, very few mechanisms are in place to ensure that donor nations
make good on their promises for economic aid.
Farm subsidies in North America, Europe and parts of Asia that stifle trade on
the so-called free market and effectively shut out producers from developing nations,
was another one of the summit's hot-button issues.
Defending the massive new U.S. farm subsidies, American Agricultural Secretary
Ann Veneman suggested that the solution to hunger was increasing productivity
and improving crop quality through biotechnology — a non-answer that prompted
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to argue that wars and protectionism are at
the heart of the problem, not bad seeds.
Speaking of bad seeds: One of the other contentious issues going at the food summit
was the language of its final, non-binding resolution. Many of the delegates wanted
the resolution to include an acknowledgement of "the right to adequate food for
In fact, this was the deeper issue of the conference itself — the belief that
it is a violation of human rights for any individual to go hungry in a world with
more than enough resources to feed all of its 6 billion citizens.
If one believes in that right, then all the other solutions would have to follow:
an expansion of agricultural aid, an end to unfair farm subsidies, improved management
in developing nations, increased environmental oversight to reduce climate change
that leads to drought and flooding.
The idea of a right to food was endorsed by developing nations, the EU and the
Vatican, but opposed by the United States, presumably because it would compromise
its ability to maintain economic embargoes against starving nations.
And if that doesn't make you choke on your foie gras, I don't know what
Rachel Giese can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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