Ending world hunger must be presidency's goal

 

Opinion:Ireland's programme for its EU presidency is focused on stability, jobs and growth. But there are also ambitious targets in relation to EU foreign policy. A specific Irish ambition is set down in the statement that: "Ireland believes strongly in the role of development co-operation and will work during its presidency to focus attention on the fight against hunger, poverty and new challenges such as the impact of climate change on the poorest regions and peoples of the world."

The decisions taken at presidency meetings in April, May, June and September 2013 will be critical. With sustained political will, the right policies and adequate resources, hunger can be substantially reduced over the next decade.

The Irish EU presidency is one of a number of key opportunities to build political will to reduce the number of hungry people - 872 million - in today's world. The other main opportunities are the G8 summit in June, in Co Fermanagh, and the UN Millennium Development Goals summit in September, which will frame the post-2015 agenda for development.

The financial allocation for development under the multiannual financial framework, to be decided by the EU Council today and tomorrow, will be a first key test. The allocation will determine what role the EU can afford to play internationally in the 2014-2020 period. Despite very difficult circumstances since 2010, Irish governments have honourably maintained aid budgets and the presidency should argue that the EU apply similar standards.

The main Irish presidency event specifically relating to hunger will be on "Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice" in April. It is being organised in partnership with the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice and the World Food Programme, and will focus on how poor communities are coping with the impact of climate change.

Food security

In May, the EU Foreign Affairs Council will consider a food security package which will include an EU communication on nutrition and an action plan on stunting. This will be the first time that the EU will have a formal policy statement on nutrition. The action plan on stunting will set out the practical steps through which the EU proposes to reduce the number of stunted children by seven million.

While hunger will not be a focus of the G8 meeting in Fermanagh in June - which Taoiseach Enda Kenny will attend as head of the EU Council - a specific "hunger event" will be held in London in advance of the meeting. This will aim to agree on measures to reduce stunted children by 25 million, from the present total of 165 million, by 2016.

Part of the presidency task will be to prepare the EU's position for the Millennium Development Goals summit in September which will be crucial in determining the world's development priorities post-2015. Ireland should be a strong advocate for ensuring that hunger reduction and improving nutrition are key priorities.

Improved nutrition

There are grounds for optimism. Many developing countries are upping investment to increase their food production. The Scaling Up Nutrition movement, which promotes improved nutrition for mothers and children under two years, has been adopted by 33 of the most food-insecure countries.

What has been achieved over recent decades in reducing child mortality shows what can be done. Child deaths have fallen from 20 million in 1980 when the world population was 4.5 billion, to 6.9 million in 2011, when the population was just over seven billion.

It is not easy for a small country like Ireland to identify an issue on which it can make a disproportionate impact at international level. Due to our 19th-century history of famine, we have a unique legitimacy in making hunger a priority of our foreign policy in the 21st century. Our leadership on this issue in recent years has coincided with food and nutrition security becoming a more important political priority at national and international level.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the containment of nuclear weapons was a core priority for Irish foreign policy. From 1958 onwards, then minister for external affairs, Frank Aiken, promoted the idea of a treaty to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. Irish persistence paid off in 1961 when the UN General Assembly adopted an Irish draft resolution in favour of a "nuclear non-proliferation initiative". It took seven years to negotiate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. When it was signed in Moscow in 1968, the Soviet government invited Aiken to sign it there, even though Ireland did not have diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union at the time. Ireland was the first country to ratify the treaty. Its role in bringing about the treaty gained Ireland enormous political capital and credibility.

What nuclear weapons were to our foreign policy over 50 years ago, hunger is today. We have an opportunity to provide global leadership at a moment when substantial progress in reducing hunger can be made. That would bring substantial international goodwill towards Ireland in the decades to come. It is a once-in-a-half-century opportunity which should be grasped with enthusiasm and passion.

* Tom Arnold is chief executive of Concern and chairman of the Irish Times Trust. Jamie Drummond is co-founder of the anti-poverty campaign, One

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