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Experts seek cure to global hunger

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[October 16, 2008]  DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) -- Much of the world today is consumed by fears of recession and unemployment. But for nearly a billion people, the fear is more basic -- having nothing to eat.

Experts from Africa, Europe and the United States gathering in Dublin for a conference on combating world hunger said Wednesday the two are connected -- the drift toward recession in the world's wealthiest countries is already increasing malnutrition in the world's poorest ones.

The conference takes place Thursday, United Nations' World Food Day.

Development experts say a global community able to commit hundreds of billions to bolstering banks should be willing to commit a fraction of that to fighting hunger. An estimated 970 million people are expected to go hungry in the coming year, up from about 920 million last year.

But the experts worry that donors may cite the financial meltdown as a reason not to do more.

"The poor are usually neglected. I think they're going to be even more neglected right now," said American economist Jeffrey Sachs, a Third World development expert and adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"Even during the boom years, it was impossible to get traction on this issue. So, honestly, now that we're in tougher times, you ask me: now is it hard? It's always been hard -- period!" he said in an AP interview.


"People who have what they need to stay alive should be ready to spend 1 percent of their income to help those who don't have what they need to stay alive. But this has been impossible to achieve for decades, in good times and bad," he said. "The reason is as unavoidable as it is depressing. People don't care about people they can't visualize, who they can't see, and who are dying."

Sheila Sisulu, deputy director of the U.N.'s World Food Program, said governmental leaders should view the battle against malnutrition as linked to the struggle to keep the world's financial system afloat. Both, she said, promote peace and stability.

"This voice for the hungry and poor has to be heard simultaneously alongside the crisis of the developed world, concerned about their stock portfolios," she said.

Sisulu, a South African, said donor governments preparing their 2009 budgets are being lobbied to at least stick to their current spending on overseas aid.

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"We are reminding our partners that the main street in the north and the village road in the south have to be considered equally," she said.

The World Food Program supplies emergency sustenance to about 80 nations, but Sisulu wants the Rome-based agency to do more to tackle the causes of starvation.

She said that means buying more food from small African farmers and giving them support to boost their yields: fertilizer, high-tech seeds, irrigation, and mechanical equipment.

Despite the global economic crisis, Sachs is adamant that the world is not short of money -- only strategic vision. He said the poverty and overpopulation that fuel Third World warfare could be reversed if the U.S. increased its aid there from the current US$5.5 billion to US$30 billion.

But he doubts that will happen.

"The attitude in the United States is: We have big budget deficits, so how can you even dream of doing this?" he said. "We don't think ahead. We let major problems slide until financial crises or wars break out."

[Associated Press; By SHAWN POGATCHNIK]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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