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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
UN summit targets hunger
Protesters in Rome
Plans to tackle starvation are falling behind schedule
A meeting of world leaders aimed at intensifying the fight against global hunger has opened in Rome, Italy.

Amid growing warnings that nearly 13 million people are facing famine in southern Africa, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called for greater access to land, credit, markets and technology for the world's farmers.

This summit must give renewed hope to those 800 million hungry people by agreeing on concrete action

Kofi Annan
The meeting - hosted by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) - is a follow-up to a summit five years ago which pledged to cut the number of people starving around the world by half by the year 2015.

Only a fraction of this target has been reached so far and hopes that efforts to combat hunger would be revived have been undermined by the fact that only two leaders from Western nations - Spain and Italy - are attending the meeting.

Meanwhile most heads of state from developing countries are present, including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who has been allowed to attend the meeting despite a travel ban imposed on him by the European Union.

'Slow' progress

In order to meet its aim of reducing the number of hungry people to 400 million by 2015, the FAO is seeking an additional $24bn a year in agricultural and rural investment.

Since 1996, when the target was set, the number of hungry people has only dropped from 840 million to 815 million.

Global hunger
1996: 840 million hungry people
2002: 815 million hungry people
2015 target: 400 million hungry people
To reach the target, the number has to decline by 22 million people each year, but the UN says the figure is dropping by only six million a year.

South African President Thabo Mbeki called on rich countries to lift trade barriers which prevent farmers from poorer countries exporting food to their markets.

Mr Mbeki said that if governments pressed ahead on the issue, it would bring rapid progress towards achieving sustainable food security.

But he said that because of a fall in investment in agriculture and rural development, progress was slow towards achieving the 2015 target.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe evaded travel restrictions to attend the summit

However, British International Development Minister Clare Short - who failed to attend the meeting - described FAO as "old-fashioned" and in need of improvement.

She said the organisation was focusing on food security rather than getting food to hungry people.

"There is no shortage of food on the planet," Mr Annan said.

"But while some countries produce more than they need to feed their people, others do not, and many of these cannot import enough to make up the gap.

'No choice'

The summit has also been overshadowed by attendance of Mr Mugabe, which has led to protests by Italian officials and the Zimbabwean official.

Mr Mugabe has gone to the conference despite restrictions imposed by the EU following his controversial re-election because heads of state are allowed access to all UN conferences.

An Italian official told AFP news agency: "Of course we don't want him here, but we had no choice."

Western governments have blamed the Zimbabwean leader for exacerbating food shortages in his country through encouraging seizures of white-owned farms by his supporters.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt
"Leaders are divided on how targets should be reached"
The BBC's David Willey reports from Rome
"Italy said it could not stop Robert Mugabe attending a UN meeting"
Dominic Nutt, Emergencies Officer for Christian Aid
"It is a country on the verge catastrophe"

Key stories

Horn of Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

Ways to help



See also:

09 Jun 02 | Americas
07 Jun 02 | Africa
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