Despite Crisis, world must keep focus on fighting poverty and hunger warns Kofi Annan

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Despite Crisis, world must keep focus on fighting poverty and hunger warns Kofi Annan

Press release number: IFAD 07/03

Rome, Feb 19, 2003 – The world must maintain and strengthen its fight against poverty and hunger despite the current crisis, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned on Wednesday.

“The possibility of war in Iraq is one that weighs heavily on the entire United Nations family – including, I am sure, all of us gathered here today,” said Mr. Annan. “But this crisis should not detract us from our determination to carry out the wider agenda of the United Nations, as we work throughout the world for freedom from fear, freedom from want, and the protection of our planet’s resources.”

Mr. Annan was speaking on the opening day of the 25th anniversary session of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)’s Governing Council in Rome.

Paying tribute to IFAD’s work, Mr. Annan said that its “community level programmes respond to the needs identified by the rural poor themselves.”

“That mission goes beyond alleviating short-term food crises,” he said. “We must keep tackling the underlying factors that allow vulnerability to persist and famines to occur.”

Mr. Annan said food assistance must be combined with new approaches to farming and more efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.

The UN Secretary General called for a reversal of the decline in aid for the rural poor. Three quarters of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people live in rural areas and depend for agriculture for their survival. Yet Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to the rural sector has fallen sharply in recent years. Aid for agriculture has dropped from 20% of overall development assistance in the late 1980s to around 12%.

IFAD is a specialised agency of the United Nations that works to enable the rural poor to overcome poverty. Since it was founded in 1978, the Rome-based organization invested approximately USD 20 billion in more than 600 projects and programmes in developing countries.

IFAD’s work has helped more than 200 million people take steps to improve their lives. Working with partners around the world, IFAD helps to improve the rural poor’s access to land, water, natural resources and technology, as well as credit and other financial services that enable them to build small businesses. IFAD also provides grants for research and technical assistance.

The Fund’s two-day Governing Council is being attended by ministers of agriculture, finance and other top officials from 162 member states. The theme of this year’s conference is on how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by focussing on the needs of rural people.

Welcoming delegates to the session, IFAD’s President Mr. Lennart Båge echoed Mr. Annan’s call for efforts to be redoubled in the fight against poverty, and to tackle its real causes.

“Even as we face urgent issues of hunger and poverty, we must not forget the underlying structural factors, deprivation, insecurity and exclusion that so often are the fuel for conflict,” he said. “For change to be lasting, the rural poor must be the driving force behind their own development. Only when this happens can we build a solid foundation for long-term peace, stability and sustainable development.”

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi urged far greater impetus in the battle to reach the Millennium Development Goals.

“The ink is still wet on the Millennium Declaration, in which we all solemnly pledged to eliminate the divides that blight the human condition in the world, with their devastating effects: poverty, hunger, infant mortality and AIDS,” he said. We are making progress. But it is insufficient.”

At the Millennium Summit in New York, held in 2000, the international community pledged to try to cut by half the number of poor and hungry in the world by the year 2015. Other goals, covering fields such as primary education, infant mortality and HIV/AIDS, were also agreed. But in spite of advances some areas, progress is still too slow.

According to some estimates, 20 million per year would need to be removed from the list of the poor and hungry if the first Millennium Development Goal is to be reached. Yet at present, the rate is just 6 million people per year. World Bank figures show that at least 65 countries are off course on reaching the target. Most of them are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

James Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said he did not believe the international community was winning the battle to reach the targets.

“We’ve made progress, but we’ve made no progress in absolute terms,” he said. He added that the three United Nations development agencies in Rome – IFAD, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – “face more challenges than ever in our history.”

IFAD is a specialized agency of the United Nations with the specific mandate of combating hunger and poverty in the most disadvantaged regions of the world. Since 1978 IFAD has financed 628 projects in 115 recipient countries and in the West Bank and Gaza for a total commitment of approximately USD 7.9 billion in loans and grants. Through these projects, about 250 million rural people have had a chance to move out of poverty. IFAD makes the greater part of its resources available to low-income countries on very favorable terms, with up to 40 years for repayment and including a grace period of up to ten years and a service charge of 0.75% per year.