World Food Summit Political Pot Boils Over

ROME, Italy, October 16, 2001 (ENS) - World Food Day activities took place in more than 150 countries today, but at the headquarters of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Director-General Jacques Diouf said he is seeking postponement of the World Food Summit scheduled for next month. Over 100 Heads of State were expected to participate.

"Unfortunately the present international circumstances and the loss of so many innocent lives and the crisis that followed have led us to seek postponement of such an event," Dr. Diouf said.

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FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf (Photo courtesy FAO)
The non-governmental organizations who have had to cancel the parallel World Food Forum they had been planning all this year, blame the problems of the World Food Summit on the newly elected Italian government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The World Food Summit planned for November 3 to 9 is in "a state of crisis," according to statement by the German NGO Forum on Environment and Development, and the Intermediate Technology Development Group.

Three weeks before the start of the World Food Summit, the Berlusconi government has still not finalized the agreement necessary to hold the Summit with the FAO.

Because of these uncertainties, FAO is not in a position to meet its promises of financial support for non-governmental organizations' participation, and therefore NGOs have cancelled the NGO Forum.

A spokesman for the German NGO Forum on Environment and Development said, "At the beginning of August this year, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, in an unprecedented manner, snubbed the United Nations. He announced unilaterally that the Summit would not take place as planned in Rome for fear that the riots, which accompanied the G8 meeting in Genoa would spread to Rome. He referred to the activities of non-governmental organizations."

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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stands with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House October 15. No statement was issued about the World Food Summit (Photo by Tina Hager courtesy The White House)
In 1996, anti-free trade activists protested at the first World Food Summit in Rome over their exclusion from the conference's debate. But few protestors have announced actions for this year's follow up Summit.

Berlusconi first proposed that the World Food Summit be held in Africa instead of in Rome, and then that it be held in the town of Rimini on Italy's Adriatic coast.

The FAO Council approved the transfer to Rimini in September, but the Italian government failed to arrange funds necessary for the transfer to Rimini. Diouf announced on October 10 that Berlusconi would agree to transferring back to Rome the different meetings of the FAO which were envisaged to take place in Rimini.

The World Food Summit: Five Years Later is to be a followup to the World Food Summit in 1996, where representatives of 185 nations and the European Community pledged to reduce the number of hungry people by half by 2015.

The followup meeting was called for by the FAO Council last year when it became clear that the original Summit goal of cutting the number of hungry in half by the year 2015 would not be met without renewed effort.

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Saidato Saifulozoda from Vose, Tajikistan has been sent by his parents to search for wheat in rat holes in the drought-stricken fields. (Photo Grethe Ostern courtesy International Federation Red Cross and Red Crescent)
In light of "recent global events and a worsening economic picture," FAO believes the plight of the hungry may grow ever worse requiring a major recommitment from all nations to press forward with renewed effort to reduce the number of hungry people in the world.

"Fight hunger to reduce poverty" is the theme for this year's World Food Day, which marks the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 1945.

A food fair in Bolivia, a fund raising lottery in Ecuador, a fight hunger run for children in India, a gala dinner in Tanzania, and a picture and poetry contest in Turkey are some of the events that were held. In addition, people discussed how to feed the world's hungry at roundtables, seminars and workshops, and there have been food exhibitions, television shows, concerts and charity football games marking World Food Day across the world.

An estimated 800 million people in the world go to bed hungry each night. In his World Food Day message, Dr. Diouf said, "I believe it is important to recognize that hunger deserves at least the same attention as poverty when we look at global development priorities. And sadly, at the dawn of the third millennium, we are still far from ensuring that all people on the planet have enough to eat, when and where they need it."