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”, Irish President Michael D Higgins said as he opened an international Conference on the issue in Dublin, on Monday 15 April 2013.
The two-day event, hosted by the Irish Government and the Mary Robinson Foundation, and organised with the World Food Programme (WFP) as part of Ireland’s EU presidency, explored the links between climate change, hunger and poor nutrition and their impact on the world’s most vulnerable populations. Attendees and speakers included former US vice-president Al Gore and almost 100 representatives of communities affected by climate change. More than 350 delegates from 60 countries attended the event at Dublin Castle.
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, President Higgins called for urgent action to address these root causes. 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. “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, “Business as usual is not an adequate response because of the urgency of the situation”.
Former US vice-president Al Gore called for action on climate change, comparing denial of changing weather patterns to “sleepwalking towards the edge of the cliff”. Mr Gore, author of An Inconvenient Truth, a best-selling book on global warming which was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary film, discussed the effects of climate change on food security. He told delegates that the most significant challenge facing humankind was to prevent worse damage in relation to climate change and suggested that “a combination of scientific knowledge and traditional expertise can make all the difference”.
The Irish Government pushed for a greater focus on the links between climate change, hunger and poor nutrition at international gatherings including the UN General Assembly and the forthcoming G8 Summit in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore said at the close of the Conference: “We have learned from the experience of the MDGs. There have been huge successes, but also gaps. I believe the new goals need specific targets on hunger and nutrition. I believe we need a strong emphasis on agriculture, and in particular climate-sensitive agriculture. I believe we need a stronger, more specific approach on the rights of women and girls.”
On the sidelines of the conference, Ireland signed a three-year partnership deal with the World Food Programme. The agreement sets out shared objectives in the area of humanitarian assistance, as well as committing Ireland to providing a minimum of €7 million a year to WFP for the next three years.
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