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from issue no. 12 - 2003

The promise to halve hunger by 2015 has been postponed to the next century

Halve the hunger? We’ll talk about it again in a hundred years

The dramatic 2003 report from the UN agency on the state of uncertainty about food in the world. 842,000,000 people on the planet suffer hunger, 27,000,000 more than last year. The situation has worsened especially in central and western Africa. A positive signal arrived from Maputo, where the countries belonging to the African Union decided to accelerate the implementation of a global Program of agricultural development

by Paolo Mattei

Food supplies in Malawi

Food supplies in Malawi

“At this rate, the goal will be reached only in 2115, that is a century later”. The goal is the halving of the number of starving in the world by 2015 and the statement comes from Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO. He made it on 16 October last in Rome during the XXIII World Food Day. A bitter recognition of reality. 2015 will once again be a year like any other for the future of the poor of the earth. It is by now clear that the promise to halve their number by that date – made by the World Food Summit of FAO in 1996 and reconfirmed in 2002 – cannot be kept. There is need for much more time, at least a hundred more years. According to the 2003 Report on the state of uncertainty about food in the world (published on 25 November in view of the biennial Conference of FAO, held in Rome from 29 November to 10 December), 842,000,000 human beings suffer from under-nourishment, 27,000,000 more than last year; of these, 798,00,000 live in the developing countries, 34,000,000 in the averagely developed countries and about 10,000,000 in the industrialized world. The number of the starving, after a slight drop in the first half of the ’nineties – 37,000,000 less -, registered in the last five year period of the millennium an increase of 18,000,000 units; the situation worsened especially in the countries of central and western Africa because of the wars. India, which in the first years of the ’nineties had reduced by 20,000,00 the number of its starving, between 1995 and 2001 saw this positive trend cancelled since just as many people entered the hell of extreme poverty. If a general improvement was recorded in Asia, in Latin America, in the Pacific and the Caribbean, the number of starving continued to increase, on the other hand, in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Near East and in northern Africa. And, according to other estimates, 11,000,000 children under five years old continue to die of hunger every year and one child under ten years old every 7 seconds. In sub-Saharan Africa (in which 33% of the population suffer hunger) of every thousand children born 170 die, 95 in central south Asia. These figures can be seen as even more negatively significant considering that the world produces food in abundance. And it is the primary producers themselves, the peasants of the Third World, constantly forced to give up growing local crops in order to satisfy the globalized market, who mostly suffer poverty and hunger. As John Paul II pointed out in his message to Diouf on 16 October: “The abandonment of traditional methods of cultivation, which arose and developed to match effective nutritional and health needs, is among the reasons for the growing poverty of the indigenous population”.
Extreme poverty on the streets of Calcutta, India

Extreme poverty on the streets of Calcutta, India

But Diouf, notwithstanding everything, spoke also of hope. Looking in the first place at Africa, where, in July 2003, in Maputo, the Heads of State and of Government of the African Union decided to accelerate the implementation of the global Program for agricultural development, committing themselves also to assigning at least 10% of the respective national resources for the improvement of agrarian production in the next five years. A certain optimism is justified, according to Diouf, also by other encouraging signals from Uruguay, Brazil and Sierra Leone, who have initiated concrete programs against malnutrition. One is certainly dealing with exceptions, since the 19 Countries who have diminished the number of starving since the early ’nineties, are exceptions; among them China, which has pulled almost 60,000,000 people out of poverty. But the Secretary General of FAO wishes to make the most of the full part of the beaker – even if small – also in terms of the current world capacity for food production. “If all the food produced this year”, he explained, “were distributed equally among the inhabitants of the planet, food production would be enough to provide every human being with 2,800 calories a day, which is equal to an increase of 17% compared to thirty years ago. And this notwithstanding the fact that, in the same period, the world population has increased by 70%”. So Diouf nevertheless highlights the positive aspect in the analysis of this dramatic imbalance. By underlining the need to create an effective system of distribution of the riches that are, evidently, there in abundance for all.
By now, however, it is clear that it has to do with a task that countries are unable to perform on their own. And it is also clear that not even a completely free market, in the current perspective of an absolute freedom of global circulation of goods, possesses the necessary power to set going the virtuous circle of an equable redistribution of the riches.
In the final Declaration of the World Food Summit “Five years later”, entitled “International Alliance against hunger”, which took up an idea launched by the German President S. E. Johannes Rau, the Heads of State hoped for the involvement of “civil society”, whose intervention to deal with the drama of malnutrition, in concert with the political world, was considered of capital importance. This wish was also confirmed on 16 October last during the World Food Day. The Alliance – producers, farmers and consumers, local governments and community organizers, scientists, the academic world, religious groups, ONG, politicians - must, Diouf said, become a working reality as soon as possible. But it cannot, naturally, replace the economic commitments that individual nations make to the world. Commitments unfortunately almost always not honored. The collecting of economic resources for the Third World is in fact a failure. If ten years ago the rich countries earmarked 16,000,000 dollars for the agriculture of the poor nations, today the figure has descended to 9,000,000 - 40% less.
“I don’t believe, even in the face of these facts, that politics is completely impotent”, Father Giulio Albanese, a Combonian, director of the well-informed missionary press agency MISNA told 30Days. “There are many politicians of goodwill in the international spectrum. Unfortunately they are often isolated and unable to establish a central place for the question of economic aid to the poor countries on the agendas of their own governments and parliaments. Because of that I think the initiative of the International Alliance against hunger is very positive. I think that through working dialogue between politicians and representatives of civil society, it will be possible to gradually establish strategies for general intervention”. The indolent national initiatives, according to Father Albanese, cannot be reinforced if not within the perspective of a redefinition of the rules of the world economy: “Since the time of Nixon onwards we have moved towards a total economic deregulation. We live in a world without rules, in a crazy market that no one is able to govern anymore, not even the magnates of the transnational societies, nor the speculators. It is necessary to reformulate the norms, not only to combat hunger, but also to relaunch the market more rationally. I say it in the interests of entrepreneurs. If more than a billion people can’t manage to earn even a dollar a day, who will buy the products?” The Director of MISNA says he is in complete agreement with the Pope who, in his message to the Secretary of FAO, also identifies in the “absence of governance” and in the “advance of ideological and political systems far removed from the idea of solidarity” the current worsening of the socio-economic injustices in the world.
Monsignor Renato Volante, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to FAO, to IFAD (International Foundation for Agricultural Development) and to WFP (World Food Program), does not go along with the fierce critics of the global market, those who see hidden behind the economic globalization of trade an “evil mind” strategically working to oppress the poor and to enrich itself ever more at the expense of the common good: “Things are more complex,” he explained to 30Days. “In analyzing the problem of malnutrition one simply must take into account such logistical questions as the transport of the goods produced, or climatic questions. In the Horn of Africa, for example, especially in Ethiopia, there is actually an alarm at present because of the drought, which is jeopardizing the lives of very many people. In West Africa there are uncontrollable situations of wars and social disorders. These facts put at daily risk even well-planned strategies and programs. One can’t, therefore, attribute the blame for the impossibility of resolving the problems of hunger to the bad will of the national politics of the various countries, or only to the global market. Not least because there are positive signs, such as is the case with India, which this year, for the first time, was in a position to donate to the WFP about a million tons of foodstuffs to distribute to neighboring countries in need”. Monsignor Volante also judges very positively the initiative of the International Alliance against hunger: “To resolve these problems it’s necessary that not only do the various governments representing their own citizens get involved but also the non-governmental organizations to which every citizen can belong at the voluntary level, despite his or her own nationality”.
The FAO initiative seems to have been well received everywhere. The Holy Father, in his message to Diouf, affirms that “the Church, with its different institutions and organizations, wishes to play a role in the World Alliance against hunger”. The poor of the planet hope that this is not just another unrealizable promise.

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