Higgins says hunger greatest ethical challenge facing world

Former president Mary Robinson to address conference on global hunger tomorrow

President Michael D Higgins addressed the  conference on climate change and global hunger in Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller /	THE IRISH TIMES

President Michael D Higgins addressed the conference on climate change and global hunger in Dublin. Photograph: Frank Miller / THE IRISH TIMES

Mon, Apr 15, 2013, 11:55

President Michael D Higgins today said global hunger represents the grossest of human rights violations and the greatest ethical challenge facing the global economy.

Opening a conference in Dublin on tackling global hunger and climate change, President Higgins said the hungry and poor of the world are “twice smitten” when political interests get in the way of elimination or relief of hunger and nutrition

“The source of this hunger is not a lack of food, but the moral affront of poverty, created and sustained by gross inequalities across the world,” he said.

“What is required is a robust regulatory framework which protects our fragile and threatened environment and which respects the right of small landholders to remain on their land and retain access to water sources.”

Former president Mary Robinson, president of the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice, is one of several high profile figures who will address the Hunger-Nutrition-Climate Justice conference at Dublin Castle including former US vice president Al Gore.

Addressing an audience of 350 delegates from 60 countries, including many developing countries, President Higgins commended Irish Government initiatives that addressed issues of hunger and nutrition, while also praising the work done by Irish Aid and other Non-Government Organisations.

About 100 farmers and people from vulnerable communities in Africa, Asia and Central America will attend the conference to give their experiences of hunger and climate change first hand.

Speaking at the event, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the one thing that brought the conference together was that we depend on each other and need to act together.

"We live in a world of plenty, but one which is reaching its environmental limits. And we are struggling to feed a rapidly growing population under a changing climate," he said. "The effects of climate change on agriculture and the production of food represents only part of the picture."

Mr Gilmore added it is easy to overlook how climate change affects quality and diversity, as well as the quantity of food grown.

"The challenge we face is immense. Together, we have made great progress over the past decade in fighting poverty and disease, but the lives of a billion people, one seventh of the population of the planet, are still dominated by poverty and hunger."

Before the conference launched, former president Mary Robinson urged people in power to listen to the experiences of vulnerable communities around the world. The rights campaigner said poor people can show first hand the links between the two.

Delegates are expected to examine how farmers’ traditional skills and science can be combined to fight hunger, improve nutrition and adapt to more unpredictable weather.

“The links between hunger, undernutrition and climate change are clear to see once we listen to the experiences of the poorest and most vulnerable people, who battle through unpredictable weather patterns in their struggle to feed their families. With crops destroyed, food prices surge, pushing millions into poverty and hunger,” Mrs Robinson said.

“Often, when people are in positions of power and influence, the most important thing they can do is listen to those they seek to help. This conference gives voice to those most in need, and provides an essential opportunity for policy makers and leaders to listen, learn, and as a result, lead.

“I hope that what policy makers hear and learn at this conference can help them to play their part in shaping a new development agenda.”

Ireland dedicates 20 per cent of the overseas aid budget to fighting hunger by improving the productivity of smallholder farmers.

Additional reporting: PA