Annan says financial crisis must not undermine action on hunger

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 16 October 2008 10:55 GMT

DUBLIN, Oct 16 (AlertNet) - Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Thursday the global financial crisis threatened to undermine political will to tackle hunger in poor nations but warned it must not be used as "an excuse for inaction".

"The food crisis of recent months is now compounded by the global financial crisis. While national governments and international lenders scramble to inject hundreds of billions of

dollars into failing banks, the developing world goes hungry," he said in a speech at an international conference hosted by aid

agency Concern Worldwide to mark World Food Day.

"This is simply unacceptable. We must do something to reverse the strain," he said.

While Africa was unlikely to be directly hit by the credit crunch, it would be affected by "a serious economic downturn" and the poor would be the first to suffer, he told reporters.

"My position is that the financial crisis is a serious one, and deserves urgent attention and focus, but so is the question of hunger, and millions (are) likely to die. Is that any less urgent?" he said.

Last week, the World Bank predicted that high food and fuel prices would increase the number of malnourished people in the world by 44 million this year to reach a total of 967 million.

Annan said wealthy governments would be told by their voters they should deal with problems at home, such as rising unemployment and shaky banks, and that would make it harder for

them to keep to their aid commitments.

But he urged leaders to stick to their promises of boosting aid to help poor farmers grow more food, questioning how much of the $12 billion promised at a U.N. food summit in June had

actually been delivered.

The needs of the world's poorest people should not be ignored in the scramble to find a solution to global financial problems, he said.

"We should also use this crisis to come up with effective reforms of the world system, and we need to ensure that the poor will not be short-changed," he argued.

Concern Worldwide chief executive Tom Arnold said rising food and energy prices and food riots in the first half of 2008 had pushed food security up the international political agenda

for the first time since the early 1970s. But in recent months, falling food prices may have induced "a false sense of complacency among political leaders".

"The brutal reality is that, notwithstanding the good analysis and the political commitments made at U.N., G8 and EU level, very few additional resources have been found to translate commitments into actions," he said in a statement.

Development economist Jeffrey Sachs, who advises the U.N. secretary general, told reporters he was pessimistic about the future, given the lack of progress even when the food crisis had made headlines earlier this year.

"Structurally there has been no breakthrough in response, taking the world scene as a whole, and there are reasons to believe that on the current business-as-usual trajectory things will get worse...because of rises in population, more climate shocks, more environmental degradation, and lack of ability of the very poor places to respond adequately," he warned.

But Rwanda's state minister for agriculture, Agnes Kalibata, said that if African countries did receive enough support to develop agriculture, both from international donors and their own leaders, they could start to export food rather than relying on aid.

"With the response we've seen to the financial crisis, surely a considered effort like that can bail out Africa," she told the conference. "Given the right kind of help, Africa can be a good trading partner, and then we won't need to beg."

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