Shocking apathy


The international community’s lackadaisical attitude towards solving the problem of world hunger, which was on display at the World Hunger Summit in Rome is shocking. The final declaration of the summit called for urgent action to improve food security but it failed to set a timetable to eradicate hunger. There were hopes that the rich countries would commit to enhancing their annual contributions in agricultural aid from $7.9 billion to $44 billion and that this would find clear mention in the final declaration. But this was not to be. The declaration merely spoke of their willingness to substantially increase their share of  development assistance to agriculture and food security. Clearly, those in a position to make a difference have failed to step forward. What is all the more distressing is that many world leaders failed to show up at the summit. But for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who played host to the meeting, no other leader from the G-8 found the time to attend the summit.

The number of hungry people in the world saw a sharp surge this year, crossing the billion mark. This means that a sixth of the world’s population is hungry. Hunger has been blamed on the food crisis which in turn has been attributed to the global economic crisis, high food and fuel prices, and drought and conflict. To address their domestic food shortages several rich countries are engaging in predatory acquisition of farmland in poor African countries. This has worsened the food crisis in Africa, contributing to an increase in the number of hungry people. At the Rome summit, several African leaders called for a halt to these land grabs. The world must pay attention to this problem.

India, which is home to 27 per cent of the world’s hungry, should have been at the forefront of the Rome summit, demanding global action in the war against hunger. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not think the summit was important enough to merit his presence. He sent his agriculture minister instead. The Rome summit held out an opportunity for the world to sit together to draw up an action plan to tackle hunger. That opportunity has been lost. But it is still not too late. Hunger must be made history and it is not impossible. Rhetoric must be replaced by robust action.

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