The persistence of hunger in the 21st century represents "the grossest of human rights violations" and the "greatest ethical failure of the current global system", President Michael D Higgins said yesterday as he opened an international conference on the issue in Dublin.
The two-day event, hosted by the Government and the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, and organised with the World Food Programme (WFP) as part of Ireland's EU presidency, will explore the links between climate change, hunger and poor nutrition and their impact on the world's most vulnerable populations. Attendees and speakers include former US vice-president Al Gore and almost 100 representatives of communities affected by climate change.
Addressing more than 350 delegates from 60 countries at Dublin Castle, President Higgins argued that the source of this hunger is not lack of food but “the moral affront of poverty, created and sustained by gross inequalities”.
Noting how the lack of regulation of transnational land acquisition and transfer of water rights, along with speculation on food commodities and structural issues in global finance contribute to the problem, he called for urgent action to address these root causes.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore told the conference
Ireland is recognised internationally for its leadership on tackling hunger.
“We dedicate 20 per cent of our overseas budget to the fight against hunger, focusing on improving the productivity of smallholder farmers in Africa and combating poor nutrition among mothers and children,” he said.
“But as climate change increases the frequency and severity of droughts and floods and makes food more difficult to produce, we need innovative solutions to support communities on the frontline.”
Overshadowing the event is the fact that progress towards the UN millennium development goals (MDGs) has fallen far short.
“Let’s be honest and acknowledge we haven’t made the progress against hunger and undernutrition we wanted,” Mary Robinson told delegates, adding that the voices of those most affected by climate change would be key to the conference.
“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,” she added.
“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.”
The conference is expected to conclude with clear recommendations about steps that need to be taken to support vulnerable households as the MDGs are reviewed.