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WORLD FOOD DAY OR WORLD HUNGER DAY?

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NEW YORK, Oct 1 2004 (IPS) - World Food Day is a painful reminder of the divide between those who are well nourished and those who live in hunger, writes Mary Robinson, Executive Director of Realising Rights: The Ethical Globalisation Initiative, and former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In this article, Robinson writes that every seven seconds a child under 10 dies directly or indirectly of hunger; more than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from hidden hunger or micronutrient malnutrition. The crisis is compounded by other global challenges which must be fought vigorously, particularly the fight against HIV/AIDS. Infection rates are rising among African women. Almost 60% of those living with AIDS in Africa are women, who make up 80% of Africa\’s small farmers and have traditionally been able to help their families and communities most in times of food crisis, but the toll taken by AIDS makes this task increasingly difficult. At the heart of any new strategy must be a greater commitment to implementing the human right to adequate food.

World Food Day is a painful reminder of one of the many divides in our world today : the divide between those who are well nourished and those who live in hunger. Every seven seconds a child under 10 dies directly or indirectly of hunger somewhere in the world. More than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from hidden hunger or micronutrient malnutrition.

Contrast this with the fact that according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) the world produces more than enough food to feed its population. How is it possible that despite our knowledge and our resources so many still go hungry?

The world must be made vividly aware of the reality of hunger and poverty. They became a reality to me when in Somalia I sat beside women whose children were dying — children whose mothers were dying. As a mother I felt the sheer horror of this situation. But as the Head of State of a country which was once devastated by famine, I also felt the helplessness and terrible irony that this could actually be happening again. And quite frankly I felt then, and I have never ceased feeling, a profound sense of outrage and, indeed, self-accusation that we are all participants in tolerating famine and hunger.

The crisis is compounded by other global challenges which must be fought vigorously if we hope to make progress in achieving food security for all. Perhaps the most difficult is the fight against HIV/AIDS. The interconnections between AIDS and food can be seen most starkly in Africa. Infection rates are rising among African women. Almost 60% of those living with AIDS in Africa are women. Women make up 80% of Africa’s small farmers and have traditionally been able to help their families and communities most in times of food crisis, but the toll taken by AIDS makes this task increasingly difficult.

The connections between food security and HIV/AIDS run even deeper, however. No part of HIV management is more critical to survival than the maintenance of good nutritional status. New studies show that people living with HIV require greater quantities of essential vitamins and minerals to help repair and heal cells. Many patients develop deficiencies, causing the HIV virus to spread more quickly in some cases. Equally important, many of the medications used for AIDS treatment need to be taken with food and there is evidence that the full benefit of anti- retroviral therapy may not be achieved in malnourished individuals, especially pregnant or lactating women.

At the heart of any new strategy to combat hunger must be a greater commitment to implementing the human right to adequate food. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed the right of everyone ”to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food”. Nearly 20 years later, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which has been ratified by the vast majority of the world’s governments, stressed ”the right of everyone to adequate food” and specified ”the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”.

It is important to stress that the human rights framework doesn’t provide a ”cure-all” solution. But human rights do provide legal standards which protect even the most vulnerable and demand accountability on the part of governments. They also provide useful guidance in making difficult policy decisions about how limited resources are best used.

This World Food Day is particularly significant for human rights activists worldwide. Last month, in Rome, the FAO committee on world food security adopted Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food.

The Guidelines, although a voluntary instrument, are seen by many as a breakthrough that will give new energy to efforts to achieve the UN Millennium Goal of halving the number of world’s hungry by 2015. They address the range of actions governments should take to ensure food security for all at national level. They provide a new international reference for civil society organisations in scrutinising governments’ performance in defeating hunger and malnutrition around the world.

But achieving food security for all won’t be possible without increased resources and investment from the richest nations. That means greater debt relief and a renewed commitment to helping the poorest countries strengthen their systems of governance, by rebuilding the capacity of the state to ensure respect for the rule of law and to provide essential public services. It means more help for small farmers, especially in Africa, including scientific and technical knowledge, and with a special focus on women, who are both the key food providers and the key to fighting AIDS on the continent.

And it means changes to global markets. It is vital that the WTO make progress on agricultural trade negotiations which are consistent with the needs of developing countries.

It is an ambitious list. Yet I am hopeful that by working together in urgent and practical ways we can fulfil the vision of President Lula of Brazil and make a reality of the human right to food. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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