Wednesday, June 04, 2008

United Nations Says Apathy Worsening Food Crisis

TUESDAY, JUNE 03, 2008
23:41 MECCA TIME, 20:41 GMT

UN: Apathy worsening food crisis

The UN wants help for the world's poor to cope with the highest food prices in 30 years

Billions of dollars are being wasted on feeding obese people in the West while millions starve around the world, Jacques Diouf, the United Nations food agency chief, has told world leaders at a summit on food security in Rome.

"No one understands... how over-consumption by obese people in the world costs $20bn each year," Diouf said.

On top of this, there are "$100bn in indirect costs resulting from premature deaths and associated diseases."

Speaking at the opening of the three-day UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) summit in Italy's capital, Diouf also highlighted how an estimated $1.2 trillion was spent on weapons in 2006 while aid to agriculture fell by more than half, from $8bn in 1984 to $3.4bn in 2004.

"In real terms, the share of agriculture in public aid to development has fallen, from 17 per cent in 1980 to three per cent in 2006," he said.

Recent food riots "are but the chronicle of a catastrophe that was foreseen," Diouf said.

Diouf lamented the failure to reach a goal set by the 1996 world food summit in Rome for reducing the number of hungry people in the world by half by 2015.

"With current trends, the summit's goal will be attained in 2150 instead of 2015," he said.

"The international community reacts, unfortunately, only when the media bring into the living rooms of wealthy countries the sad spectacle of those who suffer in the world."

'Illegal regime change'

Meanwhile, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president, addressed the summit on Tuesday.

Mugabe defended his policy of seizing land from white farmers saying he was undoing a legacy left by Zimbabwe's former colonial "masters".

A number of people have blamed the reforms for turning a country which they say was once considered a regional breadbasket into one suffering extreme hunger and economic collapse.

In his speech, the president also accused Britain of fomenting Western efforts to effect "illegal regime change" in his country by crippling it economically.

He said: "The United Kingdom has mobilised their friends and allies in Europe, north America, Australia and New Zealand to impose illegal economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.

"All this has been done to cripple Zimbabwe's economy and thereby effect illegal regime change in our country."


The presence of Mugabe at the summit had sparked condemnation from Australia and Britain.

Stephen Smith, Australia's foreign minister, called Mugabe's presence in Rome "obscene".

Smith said: "This is the person who has presided over the starvation of his people. This is the person who has used food aid in a politically motivated way."

The presence of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, has also generated criticism.

Flanked by armed guards, Ahmadinejad addressed the conference on Tuesday.

He accused unnamed "powers" of profiteering from high food prices through subsidies and market manipulations.

He also said that Israel is "doomed to go", reiterating remarks made on Monday when he said he foresaw an end to the "satanic power" of the United States and predicted that Israel is "about to die and will soon be erased from the geographical scene."

Gideon Meir, the Israeli ambassador to Italy, said that it had been "inopportune to invite him, since it gives him a forum to speak in and to shake hands with other leaders".

Concrete plan

Global food crisis

-UN says soaring price of basic foods such as rice and cereals could affect about 100 million of the world's poorest;

-Global rice stocks have halved since hitting a record high in 2001 while demand is continuing to rise;

-In Asia, rice prices have almost tripled this year alone;

-Financial speculators, rising populations, floods, droughts, increased demand from developing countries, and removing crops from the food chain to produce biofuels have been cited as factors;

-Price rises have led producing nations to enforce export restrictions, further putting the squeeze on supply, especially in countries relying on imports.

Rising prices throughout the world are being blamed on high oil prices, changing diets, urbanisation, expanding populations, flawed trade policies, extreme weather, growth in biofuels production and speculation.

People have protested and riots have broken out from Africa to Asia, raising fears that millions more will suffer from malnutrition.

The World Bank estimates that 100 million people are at risk of hunger because of surging prices.

It says the prices of all major food commodities reached their highest levels in nearly fifty years, in the first three months of 2008.

Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, told the summit that food production needs to rise by 50 per cent in the next 20 years to meet the rising demand.

He pressed nations attending the meeting to ease a wide variety of farming taxes, export bans and import tariffs to tackle the issue.

Ban also urged the US and other nations to phase out subsidies for food-based biofuels, including ethanol, that have been used to encourage farmers to grow crops for energy use rather than human consumption.

His recommendations are contained in a 38-page draft report presented at the summit by the UN task force that he created to deal with the food crisis.

Source: Agencies

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