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Much More Money Needed to Solve Food Crisis, Says NGO

Humanitarian agencies are calling on donors not to let attention to the global economic crisis overshadow the ongoing food crisis.

Tuesday is the second and final day of the UN sponsored summit in Madrid, which aims to forge a new commitment to deal with high food prices and food shortages. It’s a follow-up to the Rome summit last June, when donors pledged about $20 billion to boost agricultural production. However, little of that money has actually been given.

Sylvia Borren, of the group Global Call to Action Against Poverty, spoke from Madrid, about the summit, the theme of which is “Food Security for All.”

“The good news, I think, is that the leaders of the world here and the UN organizations are talking the right kind of language. They’re realizing that local investment is needed, that cooperation is needed between governments and civil society and the corporate sector. There’s a lot of talk of partnership, and there’s a lot of talk of everybody trying to do their bit,” she says.

However, Borren has some criticisms, too. “The bad news is that there is still a tremendous lack of sense of urgency about this. I think there’s also a lack of realization that the food crisis is affecting women, children, the elderly (and) the sick most. That it increases the domestic and communal violence and actually increases a criminal hold on vulnerable populations,” she says.

She also sees a competition for funds between the food crisis and the economic crisis. “As an example, the European Union is very proud that they’ve put a billion euros extra to the food crisis in December last year. But in that same week, they announced 260 million euros for saving the financial crisis and making sure the European economies kept going. So, for us…this is a moral crisis.” she says.

UN agencies have estimated it will cost $30 billion a year to address the food crisis. She says, “$30 billion sounds a lot, but do you realize that it’s actually about a twentieth of what has been spent on saving, what I call, the fat cats of the financial crisis in the banks.”

Some observers say that unless the financial crisis is addressed, donor nations will be hesitant to give more foreign aid to not only address the food crisis, but such things as the Millennium Development Goals.

“The whole discussion about what you solve first has to be seen proportionally. If you spend twenty times as much saving the banks than you spend on saving lives, then you’re sending out a message of what is more important. Of course the financial system has to be saved…but there has to be a realization (that) we’re talking about global security. And when people do not have food…when women have to choose which child they feed because they do not have enough for all their children, then you have to realize the violence in those families, the violence in the streets and the hold of criminal networks on these people, who are desperate, will increase,” she says.

Borren says that one-fifth of the world’s population is “living in abject poverty,” unable to “claim their human rights and they’re not able to live sustainable lives.”