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Pope chastises food summit for declining UN aid appeal

Nations reject call to commit $44b annually

BENEDICT'S LAMENT “Opulence and waste are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions.’’ BENEDICT'S LAMENT
“Opulence and waste are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions.’’
By Frances D’emilio
Associated Press / November 17, 2009

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ROME - Pope Benedict XVI decried the rise in hunger in what he called a world often ruled by profit in an address to a food summit yesterday shortly after it rebuffed a UN appeal to commit billions of dollars annually to helping farmers in poor countries.

Some 60 heads of state and dozens of ministers from other nations rejected the United Nation’s call to commit to $44 billion annually for a new strategy focusing on agricultural development in poor nations as a way to enable farmers to produce enough food for their own countries.

“Hunger is the most cruel and concrete sign of poverty,’’ the pope said. “Opulence and waste are no longer acceptable when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions.’’

It was unclear if Benedict was referring directly to the failure to secure money pledges as sought by the UN food agencies, but Vatican Radio yesterday called the lack of a firm money commitment “disturbing.’’

UN officials say roughly 1 billion people - 1 of every 6 people on the planet - don’t get enough to eat.

In the United States, about 1 in 7 American households, or 49 million people, struggled to put enough food on the table in 2008, the highest number since the US Department of Agriculture began tracking food security levels in 1995, the department said yesterday.

The world’s wealthiest nations put forward a global food strategy focusing on agricultural aid at the Group of Eight summit this summer in L’Aquila, Italy.

It was endorsed by attendees hours after the start of the three-day meeting in Rome, the third food summit there since 2002 that has grappled with the goal of fighting hunger.

“God bless your efforts to ensure that all people are given their daily bread,’’ Benedict told the delegates from 192 countries as he wished them well in their decisions.

Benedict also lamented the practice of destroying surplus crops “for economic gain’’ as well as “the logic of profit viewed as an end in itself’’ when deciding trade policies.

He advocated favoring access to international markets for products “coming from the poorest areas,which today are often relegated to the margins.’’

Benedict said that financial support for these nations should be “inspired by solidarity, enabling them to provide for their own requirements of consumption and development,’’ and he said “the right to sufficient, healthy and nutritious food’’ and water must be upheld.

The previous papal appearance at a food summit in Rome was in 1996, when Pope John Paul II delivered a speech.

Among those attending were Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The US delegation is headed by the acting administrator of the USAgency for International Development, Alonzo Fulgham.

The UN had also hoped countries would adopt 2025 as a deadline to eradicate hunger. But the declaration instead focused on a pledge set nine years ago to halve the number of hungry people by 2015.

As the conference opened, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told participants it was “unacceptable’’ that the world has enough food while more than 1 billion people go hungry.

Until recently, helping the hungry has largely entailed wealthy nations’ sending food assistance rather than technology, irrigation help, fertilizer, or high-yield seed. Much of this food assistance is purchased from the wealthy nations’ own farmers.

But the Food and Agriculture Organization says the best way to stop hunger is to help the needy help themselves, and the final declaration embraced that strategy.