Rich countries ignore empty stomachs says Christian Aid

 Rich countries do not care about hunger, according to Christian Aid's representative at the UN World Food Summit in Rome. Interest in the four-day meeting from western countries has been minimal. No prime minister or president from the developed world has attended, other than those who are obliged to do so. Jose Maria Aznar had to come, because Spain currently has presidency of the EU, while Silvio Berlusconi was there as his country is the host nation. "Even then, the ones that had to come left soon after the opening ceremonies," said Kevan Bundell, Christian Aid senior policy officer for food security and the environment. Africa, in contrast, has sent some of its most powerful heads of state, such as South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, and Botswana's president Festus Mogae. Bundell adds that the summit's declaration and agenda ignore the real causes of hunger in developing countries. No mention has been made of trade liberalisation and its effects on poor people's ability to access food. "What's the point of this summit if it's not going to discuss one of the most crucial policy areas affecting food security; economic liberalisation and intellectual property rights. And there really should be something on reducing subsidies and dumping," he said. Liberalisation is one of the causes of the current emergency in southern Africa. Conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund has contributed to the crisis in Malawi. The IMF forced the Malawian government to cut agricultural subsidies at the same time as advising it to drastically scale back its free seeds and fertiliser programme. At the opening of the meeting, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said that 800 million people worldwide are hungry, resulting in 24,000 deaths everyday. He admitted that progress in reducing these numbers is slow. At the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) World Food Summit in 1996, a pledge was made to halve world hunger by 2015. "But although this failure has been acknowledged, the declaration contains no new commitments from the world's richest countries," said Bundell. He added that summit's statement refers to GM foods without mentioning the associated risks. "The declaration is not totally gung-ho for GM, but it is certainly insufficiently precautionary," he says. Bundell has written a Christian Aid report, Forgotten Farmers, which examines models of sustainable agriculture.

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