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HEALTH: Picture a Hunger-Free World

Anne-Kathrin Keller

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 3 2007 (IPS) - The scene within and outside the United Nations last week was strikingly dissimilar: while more than 140 world leaders were arriving in New York to wine, dine and address the General Assembly, a group of activists was demonstrating outside the U.N. compound for a hunger-free world.

The message conveyed by the activists was clear: the United Nations is fighting a losing battle to fulfill its pledge to halve the number of undernourished people.

According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the number of hungry people worldwide has increased from 800 million in 2000 to 854 million this year. About 35,000 people die of hunger every day.

“World leaders shouldn’t just put the issue of hunger on the table, they should put it in their mouths, in their pocketbooks and in their actions,” said Nigerian actress Hilda Dokubo, who complained about the plight of women in Africa.

“I am outraged at the countries which are indifferent to (hunger in) my country,” Malvika Subba, the former Miss Nepal and an activist fighting to end global hunger, told IPS.

Subba became famous in her country for her battle against hunger and poverty. She is now an active spokesperson for HungerFree Campaign, which was launched by the anti-poverty agency ActionAid in July in more than 30 countries. Their aim is to establish the right to food as a basic human right.

She, along with Dokubo and several other activists, is now hoping that the promise of a 50-percent reduction in hunger will be achieved by 2015 as part of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Still, many people believe that the fight against hunger is on the verge of being lost – unless there is a strong political will among the 192 U.N. member states.

When the former beauty queen was asked during a passport check at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport about the purpose of her visit, she said she was a participant in an international campaign against hunger.

She said the immigration officer started laughing, “Because he thought that freeing the world from hunger is not possible.”

But Subba told IPS: “I am not pessimistic because reports of the Food and Agriculture Organisation show that there are enough food and mineral resources to feed the whole planet. The obstacles are mostly political.”

For example, she said, a lot of women in Africa or Asia have no access to agricultural land.

Dokubo, the Nigerian actress, shares Subba’s thoughts. She told IPS: “In my country women partake in more than 50 percent of agricultural production, but only a few (in Africa) have their own land or equipment.”

That is why she wants both the right to food and also the right to take her country to an international court, if it fails to provide food for the hungry and the malnourished.

“I do not understand how they can talk about anything else than food, because hunger kills more people then war, AIDS or natural disasters and if you do not give people food then you have no reason to lead them,” Dokubo added.

She is urging her government, together with HungerFree, to remove all constraints on women owning farmland, strengthen anti-corruption legislation and provide free education, and prevent government agencies from destroying homes of the poor.

In 2000, U.N. member states promised to give the fight against hunger and poverty top priority. At the same time, they set objectives to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 –- the MDGs.

But seven years later, actions have yet to live up to words. While one of their main aims was to halve the number of undernourished people, the statistics show a different result.

Since 1948, the U.N. has identified access to adequate food as both an individual right and a collective responsibility.

Article 25.1 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food.”

Human rights standards are the laws that underpin the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These are the international legal instruments that governments adopt voluntarily. But still many countries violate the right to food.

Action Aid says it will continue to join with experts and activists in U.N. member states to call for drastic action to repair the U.N.’s failing MDGs.

“A lot of people do not believe anymore that the U.N. can effect changes, but we still believe that the U.N. is a place where actions can be successful,” Alexandre Polack from ActionAid told IPS.

The HungerFree campaign plans to push governments to introduce and implement laws that bring an immediate end to all deaths by starvation and ensure basic social protection.

They also call to enact and enforce laws that guarantee all women the right to own land and they want the governments to ensure that corporations are held accountable for abuses and violations of the right to food, water, land and seeds.

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