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Somali Prime Minister: Food Summit Highlights Millennium Goal Lag

Umar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke says the summit just concluded in Rome has been helpful because it drew the world's attention to the problem of world hunger, but it has also shown there's still a long way to go to meet UN goals for improving food security worldwide.

Concluding the World Summit on Food Security in Rome this week, United Nations food agency chief Jacques Diouf said ending world hunger is possible. But in the Horn of Africa, where an estimated 23 million people aren't getting enough to eat, that goal seems a distant dream. Selah Hennessy spoke to Somalia's prime minister about what needs to be done to bring food security to his country.

Umar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, prime minister of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, told VOA that Rome's conference had been helpful because it drew the world's attention to the problem of world hunger. But he said it had also shown there's still a long way to go to meet UN goals for improving food security worldwide.

"It was an issue that really has shown, I think, that people are lagging behind in the goals of the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the food security goals of 2050," he said.

But he said he felt delegates to Rome's conference had made some progress towards resolving the problem of food insecurity.

"So I think it was important. I think we had multilateral discussions on how to really tackle food securities as well as by how the developed world can assist developing countries," he said.

Summit delegates renewed their commitment to eradicating hunger as soon as possible, and reiterated one of the eight Millennium Goals - to cut world hunger in half by 2015.

Sharmarke said in order to resolve Somalia's food problem, security needs to be reinstated in Somalia and poverty and unemployment need to be resolved. But a minister in neighboring Kenya, Adam Barre Duale, who attended the Rome summit, told VOA he thought rich countries were not doing enough to fight world hunger. He said more money needs to be invested in agriculture, both by donor countries and by African governments.

"Developing nations and U.N. agencies must also be very proactive in increasing funding directly to the third-world country's farmers," he said. "Farmers in third world countries must be given quality seed, they must be given quality fertilizers, access to credit must be enhanced."

But Peter Smerdon, a spokesperson for the UN food agency group the World Food Program, told VOA that in many parts of Somalia investing in agriculture may not solve the problem of hunger.

"One has to note, particularly in the case of Somalia, it is a largely arid and semi-arid land that even during peace time was unable to produce enough food to feed its own people. So the vast majority of food in Somalia is actually imported," he said.

He says Somalia is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in 18 years and that right now nearly half the population of Somalia is in need of humanitarian assistance.

He says in some parts of Somalia the humanitarian crisis is all-encompassing.

"The situation is so bad in South and Central Somalia, you need the delivery of the whole package of assistance - not just food; you need health centers, water, sanitation, that kind of thing. If people just receive food, they will still get sick, especially during the current rains when the water is contaminated and therefore the food will do virtually nothing," he said.

The good news, he says, is that El Nino, a periodic change in the atmosphere and temperature, of the ocean waters, of the tropical Pacific region, has recently brought short rains to Somalia and is improving conditions in the north and central regions.

"If they have gone through the drought - and the drought in places has lasted two years or more. If they have enough livestock left then the animals will find pasture and browse on the ground and will be able to drink water and therefore they will stop dying," said Smerdon.

But he says drought has left millions of people with no animals, seed, tools, or money. And he says for these people the rains will change nothing, because they have nothing to plant and no animals on which to survive.

And he adds that rain is coming increasingly less often to the Horn of Africa.

"Rain is decreasing over the years. It takes an El Nino to give you a normal short rain. In fact you should get normal short rain every year but it's taken the El Nino to provide that," said Smerdon.

Smerdon says the World Food Program is $167 million short for operations to feed people across Somalia for the six months between December and May 2010.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates that 123,000 people were displaced in Somalia between July and November of this year. They said this was caused by insecurity and conflict, as well as by drought and loss of livelihood.