“Today, more than one billion people are hungry,” he told the assembled leaders, calling for immediate action on long-term remedies, a day after he himself fasted for 24 hours in solidarity with all those billion. “It was not easy. But, for too many people, it is a daily reality.”
A three-day United Nations summit on world food security opened in Rome Monday, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warning that on this day alone more than 17,000 children will die of hunger -- one every five seconds, 6 million a year -- even as the planet has more than enough food for all.
He laid out a full, comprehensive spectrum of measures to combat a scourge gravely exacerbated by climate change and population growth that will see two billion more mouths to feed in 2050 – 9.1 billion in all – with an overall need to grow 70 percent more food.
The steps range from immediate needs such as food aid, safety nets and social protection to the longer-term goals achieved through increased investments in agricultural development, including provision of seeds, water supplies and land to ensure higher productivity, better market access, and fairer trade, above all for smallholder farmers, especially women.
“These smallholder farmers are the heart and soul of food security and poverty reduction,” Mr. Ban declared. “We must resist protectionism and end subsidies that distort markets. This, ladies and gentlemen, lies at the core of food security. Our job is not just to feed the hungry, but to empower the hungry to feed themselves.”
He warned of a chain reaction over the past year that threatens the very foundations of life for millions of people, with rising energy prices driving up food costs and eating away the savings that would otherwise be spent on health care or education.
“It is a vicious cycle that impoverishes not only its immediate victims but all people,” he said. “Millions of families have been pushed into poverty and hunger. Suffering on this scale spills over borders. It sets back development and undercuts social order, as we well know. Over the past year and a half, food insecurity led to political unrest in some 30 countries.”
But it is not enough just to deal with the crisis when it arrives, even though the world responded with the greatest-ever food aid, pledging funding and improved policies at various summits, and even worse potential damage was averted.
“Because the underlying problems persist, we will continue to experience such crises, again and again - unless we act,” Mr. Ban said. “The food crisis of today is a wake-up call for tomorrow.”
He stressed the inter-relationship between the food and global warming crises, pleading for agreement at next month's climate change summit in Copenhagen on curbing greenhouse gas emissions to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.
The melting of Himalayan glaciers would affect the livelihoods and survival of 300 million people in China and up to 1 billion people throughout Asia, while Africa's small farmers, who produce most of the continent's food and depend mostly on rain, could see harvests drop by 50 percent by 2020, he warned.
“Today's event is critical. So is the climate change conference in Copenhagen next month. There can be no food security without climate security,” Mr. Ban declared. “They must produce results -- real results for people in real need, results for the one billion people who are hungry today, real results so millions more will not have to suffer when the next shock hits.