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Financial crisis hits food aid, Annan says

On World Food Day, implores nations to act

By Shawn Pogatchnik
Associated Press / October 17, 2008
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DUBLIN - Wealthy nations are reneging on commitments to help feed the world's hungry, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan told an international conference on combating starvation yesterday.

Annan, speaking on World Food Day, said 10,000 children in the Third World would die from malnutrition yesterday alone. And this, he said, should be viewed as a tragedy as great as the collapse of a bank.

"The financial crisis deserves urgent attention and focus. But so does the question of hunger. Millions are liable to die [this year]. Is that any less urgent?" Annan told journalists at the Fighting Hunger conference, attended by 200 foreign-aid specialists from Europe, Africa and the United States.

"I agree that politicians being what they are, and under pressure from their own voters to improve their own local economic conditions - they will take their eyes off of poverty," he said.

Annan questioned whether governments were really serious when they proclaimed aid commitments at a Group of Eight summit in Scotland in 2005 and at a 181-nation Food Summit in Rome in June.

The G-8 meeting produced promises to boost development aid to Africa to $50 billion by 2010. The Rome Food Summit ended with nations committing $12 billion toward measures to modernize agricultural practices, including promises to buy more food from small African farmers and to help them boost their yields with fertilizer, high-tech seeds, irrigation, and mechanical equipment.

If those promises were kept, Third World hunger would decline, Annan said.

Instead, hunger specialists at yesterday's conference agreed that the current number of 920 million hungry worldwide is likely to grow this year to about 970 million.

Annan suggested that the $12 billion pledge was an illusion.

"How much of that $12 billion has been paid out? How much of that $12 billion was new money? How much of it had been pledged before and pledged again?" he asked.

Annan declined to identify specific nations and their financial shortcomings on aid. So did several representatives of aid organizations at the conference. All said it was foolish to risk annoying potential sources of funding.

In Rome yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI said that the world has enough resources to feed its growing population and blamed world hunger partly on corruption, military spending and the "egoism" of nations.

In Dublin, US economist Jeffrey Sachs, a development specialist and special adviser to both Annan and his successor, US Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said virtually all of the world's wealthiest countries have talked big and delivered far less.

"It's easy to give a big speech, and very hard to track the money afterward," said Sachs, a Columbia University professor who has promoted the idea of pooling international donations for modernizing Third World agriculture into a single, publicly visible fund.

He said the Rome promises had been "nearly a washout" so far, with only a single major donation - about $33 million from Australia - banked and earmarked for future use in developing agriculture.

He said virtually no major country was close to meeting the United Nations' goal of committing 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to foreign aid. He said the biggest donor, the United States, was also "the No. 1 offender" - because its aid equals just 0.16 percent of its GDP.

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