Envoy named to lead hunger crisis strategy

Thu, Jan 22, 2009, 00:00

THE GOVERNMENT has appointed a special envoy to oversee Ireland’s response to the global hunger crisis.

Kevin Farrell, a former senior official with the UN food agency, will monitor the Government’s progress in implementing the recommendations of its hunger taskforce, a panel of Irish and international experts which completed its work last year.

The taskforce was established by the Government’s overseas development unit to devise ways in which aid strategies could best address a food crisis that results in almost one billion people going hungry every day.

Pledging that hunger eradication will become a cornerstone of Ireland’s aid programme, Minister for Overseas Development Peter Power yesterday endorsed the “thrust” of the report, which was published at UN headquarters in New York last September.

He said Ireland would take a leadership role in global efforts on the issue, and accepted in particular three priorities identified by the expert group: increasing smallholder agriculture productivity in Africa; targeting maternal and infant under-nutrition, and working to ensure that governments fulfil their commitments to eradicating hunger.

“What we are witnessing is a silent tsunami of hunger,” Mr Power said. “The international community has the resources and the technology to tackle the crisis. We know what needs to be done. We now have to build the global political will to give hunger eradication the priority it deserves.”

In his capacity as envoy, Mr Farrell – who was a member of the taskforce – will advise Irish Aid on hunger reduction measures and, on completion of his 18-month term, will report to the Minister on progress made in implementing the recommendations.

Mr Farrell has extensive experience in development and food security. He worked for the World Food Programme (WFP) from 1989 to 2008, including a period as head of the WFP in Uganda and Somalia. For the past six years he served as head of the WFP in Zimbabwe, managing one of the organisation’s largest operations in response to the food crisis there.

Asked if the Government stood by its commitment to meeting the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of GNP on overseas aid by 2012, despite the economic circumstances, Mr Power pointed to the Taoiseach’s renewal of the commitment in New York last September.

“That is a commitment we gave to the UN a number of years ago, and what the Taoiseach said in his New Year’s message was that despite the enormous challenges that we face, we cannot forget that tonight on this planet, one billion people will go hungry,” he said.

“It puts our own difficulties and challenges, no matter how profound they are, into perspective. We can’t forget about those people, particularly because of our very difficult history in terms of hunger and famine.”

Dóchas, an association of aid groups, welcomed the Government’s initiative, saying it indicated that Ireland “does not want to accept the scandal that is world hunger.” President Barack Obama had reminded the world that we could not separate our domestic challenges from those of the wider world, said spokesman Hans Zomer.