DUBLIN, Ireland – Wealthy nations are reneging on commitments to help feed the world’s hungry, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told an international conference on combating starvation Thursday.
Annan, speaking on World Food Day, said 10,000 children in the Third World would die from malnutrition on Thursday alone. And this, he said, should be viewed as a tragedy as great as the collapse of a bank.
“The financial crisis deserves urgent attention and focus. But so does the question of hunger. Millions are liable to die (this year). Is that any less urgent?” Annan told journalists at the Fighting Hunger conference, attended by 200 foreign-aid experts from Europe, Africa and the United States.
“I agree that politicians being what they are, and under pressure from their own voters to improve their own local economic conditions, they will take their eyes off of poverty,” he said.
Annan questioned whether governments were really serious when they proclaimed aid commitments at a Group of Eight summit in Scotland in 2005 and at a 181-nation Food Summit in Rome in June.
The G-8 meeting produced promises to boost development aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010. The Rome Food Summit ended with nations committing $12 billion toward measures to modernize agricultural practices, including promises to buy more food from small African farmers and to help them boost their yields with fertilizer, high-tech seeds, irrigation and mechanical equipment.
If those promises were kept, Third World hunger would decline, Annan said.
Instead, hunger experts at Thursday’s conference agreed that the current number of 920 million hungry worldwide is likely to grow this year to between 950 million and 970 million.
Annan suggested that the $12 billion pledge was an illusion.
“How much of that $12 billion has been paid out? How much of that $12 billion was new money?” he asked.
Annan declined to identify specific nations and their financial shortcomings on aid. So did several representatives of aid organizations at Thursday’s conference. All said it was foolish to risk annoying potential sources of funding.
In Rome on Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI said that the world has enough resources to feed its growing population and blamed world hunger partly on corruption, military spending and the “egoism” of nations.
The director-general of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Jacques Diouf, said only 10 percent of the money pledged by world governments for fighting food shortages this year has arrived. Diouf noted that the bulk of received money was earmarked for emergency famine relief, not longer-term agricultural aid to make future famines less likely.
In Dublin, U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs, a development expert and special adviser to both Annan and his successor, U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said virtually all of the world’s wealthiest countries have talked big and delivered far less.
He said virtually no major country was close to meeting the United Nations’ goal of committing 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to foreign aid. He said the biggest donor, the United States, was also “the No. 1 offender” – because its aid equals just 0.16 percent of its GDP, the lowest on the table.