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UN Food Chief Urges Eastern Europe to Tackle Hunger - 2004-09-14


The Executive Director of the World Food Program is urging ex-Soviet satellite states that joined the European Union in May and oil-rich Russia to do more to help reduce worldwide hunger. James T. Morris made the comments in Budapest, where he spoke with officials about countries such as Sudan.

While Mr. Morris appreciates what he calls the symbolic support from the Hungarian government of roughly $65,000 annually to feed starving people worldwide, he has made clear that Hungary and other former Communist countries that recently embraced capitalism should also increase their social responsibilities.

The executive director of the U.N. World Food Program suggested to VOA he had reminded Hungary's Minister of Agriculture that the many farmers of this new EU nation have lots of resources to share with the world's estimated 840 million hungry people.

"This is a country today that has a surplus of crop of 16 million metric tones," he said. "I mean it is one of the great success stories in the world. Its economy has been growing with four or five percent. These are very smart people that understand what makes the world go around."

Mr. Morris says his visit has raised awareness in Hungary and other countries that joined the European Union this year, such as Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic to contribute to overseas aid projects, like their Western counterparts.

He says giving significant aid and sharing their new found prosperity is still new to former Soviet satellite states at a time when they seek money at home for projects such as improving infrastructure following decades of communist neglect.

As an example, Mr. Morris explains that oil-rich Russia gave the World Food Program just $11 million last year to help people in countries such as North Korea and Angola, but nothing has arrived for 2004. He says Moscow has only expressed an intent to increase its support over time with planes and helicopters for Sudan.

Mr. Morris says his organization needs all the help it can get from Central and Eastern Europe to increase the number of countries feeding the hungry in Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

"The crisis in Darfur is so extraordinary," he added. "1.2 million people have been chased from their homes [by militias] under pretty violent, unpleasant conditions. Women especially have been treated in the most horrific way possible. You have now got hundreds of thousands of kids poorly nourished, living without water and sanitation in very rainy conditions right now."

He adds the crisis has underscored that large donors such as the United States need help from emerging economies to help meet the U.N. aim to reduce poverty and hunger by 50 percent by the year 2050.

While the focus of his organization is on Africa, including 14 million orphans of AIDS parents in sub-Saharan regions, the U.N. World Food Program also continues to feed people in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union states, including hundreds of thousands of refugees from the troubled Russian republic of Chechnya.

Mr. Morris says no country should accept hunger as part of life.

"There is no excuse in this day of 2004 for a child to be hungry in this world," he said. "We know how important a healthy well fed woman is giving birth to a child and while she is nursing a child. When the world understands that, the world says that is unacceptable. I suspect there have been hungry people from the beginning of time, but we never lived in a world with the technology and the communications that we live in."

The U.N. official will deliver a similar message in oil-rich nations in the Middle East later this month.

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