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G8: Financial Crisis Or No, Rich Can Help Fight Hunger

Sholain Govender-Bateman

PRETORIA, Jul 7 2009 (IPS) - The World Food Programme (WFP) is urging G8 leaders to turn words into action and meet urgent hunger needs in Africa and other developing nations as they gather in Italy for the 2009 G8 Summit.

At a press briefing ahead of the start of the three-day summit, WFP spokesperson Gregory Barrow said the global economic downturn has followed on the heels of a year when the ranks of the hungry in Africa and elsewhere increased due to the impact of high food prices.

“The biggest impact of the global financial downturn on WFP’s operations in Africa is an increase in the caseload of the hungry, particularly among urban populations that depend on remittances from abroad; populations who have lost jobs because of a fall in demand for commodities; and populations who depend on income from industries such as tourism that have been hit hard by the recent economic conditions.”

The most recent figures released by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation show that over one billion people around the world are in desperate need of food.

This year’s G8 summit takes place in L’Aquila, Italy from Jul. 8 to 10. Leaders of Canada, Russia, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, together with the European Union, are scheduled to hold a session on hunger issues on Friday.

They are expected to sign a joint declaration and launch an initiative aimed at securing funds for long-term agricultural development and short-term hunger needs.

WFP Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, Amir Abdulla, and Nancy Roman, Director of Public Policy, Communications and Private Partnerships said the G8 summit’s focus on the current global economic crisis and food security would help create a platform from which WFP could address the needs of the hungry in a two-fold manner.

Roman said that increasing agricultural production through the development of small-scale farmers and communities was critical to addressing long-term hunger problems of a growing population. She said the latest statistics project the population to rise from 6.8 billion people today to 9.1 billion by 2050.

Access to food was crucial to addressing short-term hunger as lack of infrastructure and security issues in many developing nations preventing food aid from reaching hungry people, she said.

Abdulla emphasised that access also included situations where supply had increased but local people who were in need of food did not get the produce.

“When food prices were at the highest in mid 2008 – there was actually quite a good harvest in South Africa. But that food was not being eaten by the hungriest and poorest people in Lesotho, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

“A lot of that South African maize was being exported for animal feed to wealthier countries.”

He said that aside from increasing supply it was important to ensure that hungry people were able to get that food.

WFP’s current food programmes assist just over one hundred million people, with an operation level cost of $6.5 billion.

The current funding shortfall is $4.5 billion. “WFP is calling for this year’s G8 Summit to turn words into action and provide the essential support required to meet urgent hunger needs as well as long term investment in agriculture in the developing world,” said Barrow

”Governments of G8 countries have found trillions of dollars to save financial institutions and to inject momentum into flagging economies. The amount required to support an agency like WFP that will provide vital food assistance to more than 100 million people this year is a tiny fraction of this amount.”

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