GENEVA - The world's economic woes cannot be allowed to eclipse other key priorities, including protecting people from climate change and feeding the hungry, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Monday.
In an interview ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Annan also condemned recent fighting in Gaza as "appalling" and said the piracy near Somalia served as another warning of the risks of letting simmering crises fester.
Referring to estimates from humanitarian agencies that the global food crisis could push 100 million more people into hunger, Annan said: "One hundred million starving people are as urgent as some of the issues we are fully focused on."
"I worry about the economy and the financial situation and its impact on the poor and the vulnerable," Annan, who is the WEF co-chair, told Reuters in his office at the Kofi Annan Foundation in Geneva.
"I accept that one needs to get the financial system right, and without credit flowing through the system, the economic recovery will be very slow. But I think we should broaden our approach."
Protests over last year's food price spike offered a glimpse into the instability that could result if the world's poorest see themselves sinking further into destitution while trillions of dollars are pumped into banks in rich countries, he said.
"Problems like climate change need to be tackled with equal urgency. We cannot see them sequentially," he said. "I don't think it is beyond human ingenuity to find an approach that tackles these issues across the board."
The soft-spoken Ghanaian said that world leaders needed to take care to ensure their discussions about fixing the economy also reflect basic concerns about jobs, nutrition, and health.
Foreign assistance pledges must also be honoured in order to help vulnerable and marginalised people out of crisis, he said.
"We need to be able to tackle the issues in a way that sends a message to the dispossessed, and the poor, and the weak that their issues are equally important," he said.
"To tell them the problem of Wall Street is the problem of main street does not resolve their problems ... We need to get across a message to the people that those in positions of authority do care."
Annan said the piracy off the shores of Somalia was another illustration of the dangers of letting serious problems simmer too long while tending to other priorities.
"We have pockets in the world where either the crisis is forgotten or is deemed too protracted for anything to be done about it. We cannot leave crises to fester, even in situations of failed states," he said.
And Annan said the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza gave new urgency to finding a sustainable two-state solution to allow both Israelis and Palestinians the chance to live in peace.
"What we saw in Gaza was absolutely appalling," he said.
All parties to the conflict, including Hamas, need to be invited to the table to resolve their long-standing conflict "in an open-minded way," he said, adding the new U.S. administration under Barack Obama should help nudge along the process.
Editing by Charles Dick