Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

UN calls for more help for hungry

By David Loyn
International development correspondent, BBC News

Ban Ki-moon on hunger needs

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called on the world to do more to help the hungry.

He said hunger is "a deep stain on our world", and it was important to work even harder than last year to bring food aid to those who need it.

Help was also needed to provide seeds and fertilisers for farmers to feed themselves, he told a UN food security summit in Madrid.

Mr Ban said the right to food should be considered a human right.

He said that although food prices have come down, the number of hungry people is set to rise again.

The Madrid summit closed with an agreement to sign up to a new Global Partnership for agriculture and food security that the UN secretary general said would be truly inclusive and broadly based, listening to farmers' groups in the developing world.

Since the food price shock a year ago, when rises caused riots across the world and toppled a government in Haiti, the issue of hunger has moved to the centre of the stage in international development thinking.

Although prices now are lower than at their peaks, they are far higher than before the crisis began.

Jacques Diouf, head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Jacques Diouf said warning signs of a food crisis had reappeared

The head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation Jacques Diouf said that many of the same factors that sent an early warning of last year's crisis are now being seen again.

The most dramatic intervention at the conference was from the UN poverty adviser Professor Jeffrey Sachs, who said that when the finance minister of Kenya phoned him to ask for $80m (57m) to help Kenya's farmers this year he said "spend the money" in the faith that it would be covered by the World Bank.

This prioritisation of food and hunger is quite new, and has been welcomed by campaign groups like the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), who have recently mobilised millions of people for their cause.

Need for 'real action'

But the co-chair of the movement, Sylvia Borren, said that the international response in Madrid is still lacking urgency.

"It is a consultation and coalition-forming process, but if you look at the plans it will be another year before it gets off the paper, out of the talks into real action.

There is an emergency out there
Sylvia Borren
Global Call to Action Against Poverty

"What we are concerned about are people who are starving today - women who say to us 'I have to choose which child to feed'.

"I don't want to live in a world where women have to make those choices.

"There is an emergency out there: the urgency of having a hunger fund available is still lacking."

The amounts of money now being talked about are large - $5bn extra for food aid, and $10bn extra on helping farmers in Africa plant more productive crops.

But they are dwarfed by the trillions now committed to saving the banking system in the developed world.

The World Bank has called for 0.7% of that money to go to the poorest countries, hit hardest by high food prices and now the collapse in world trade following the credit crunch.

The managing director of the World Bank, Ngozi Konjo-Iweala, said: "We cannot just talk about big stimulus packages for rich countries when poor countries have to face the fundamental problem of no stimulus packages."

Alongside all this are more complex questions of what people eat, and a growing understanding of the need for better nutrition, particularly at the youngest age.

French health agency Medicins Sans Frontieres has been campaigning for science that is already known to be applied to food aid.

Only in emergencies do small babies get what they need. "Routine" food aid does not give them what they need.

Stephane Doyon of MSF said: "Whenever there is food distribution for people in need, we should not forget the little ones, who are the ones are the most vulnerable, the ones affected by malnutrition and the ones who die."

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