Pope Francis will today address the second International Conference on Nutrition in Rome, organised by the UN bodies, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Queen Letizia of Spain, prime minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, Melinda Gates and economist Jeffrey Sachs as well as more than 100 health and agriculture ministers, including Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, are also attending the three-day assembly.
Intended to “tackle the multiple burden of hunger, undernutrition and micronutrition deficiencies” in a world where 805 million people still go hungry, the meeting concludes with two important documents – the Rome Declaration on Nutrition, a political commitment document, and the Framework For Action, a technical guide for implementation.
One aspect of this week’s conference, held in the FAO’s Rome headquarters is its cost of €3 million. At times throughout the last 30 years, the 197-member FAO has been criticised as being inefficient, over-expensive (the annual budget is more than €800 million) and over-bureacratised.
Communications director Mario Lubetkin, however, told The Irish Times: "With regard to the cost of holding the International Conference on Nutrition, we are keen to keep costs down to a minimum and the small budget for an event such as this reflects that. The expenses ... are the result of four years of dedicated hard work, research and analysis by a large number of stakeholders at national, regional and international level."
In a message for World Food Day last month, Pope Francis called world hunger “one of the most dramatic paradoxes of our time which we are witnessing helplessly and often with indifference”.
“To defeat hunger, it is not enough to meet the needs of those who are less fortunate or to help through aid and donations those who live in situations of emergency. It is instead necessary to change the paradigm of aid and of development policies,” he added. “How long will we continue to defend systems of production and consumption which exclude most of the world’s population even from the crumbs which fall from the tables of the rich?”
In his speech this morning, he is likely to repeat many of these concepts that follow on from his vision of a Catholic Church "of the poor and for the poor".
On yesterday's opening day, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon delivered a video address to the conference in which he welcomed progess in the global fight against hunger, adding: "I look forward to learning of the national commitment that each of you will make. In turn the UN system pledges to do all that it can to provide effective support."