LONDON — Several Olympic athletes joined Britain's Prime Minister and other world leaders on Sunday at a meeting billed as a “Hunger Summit” in London, just before the Olympics closing ceremony.
Officials wanted to use the publicity of the Olympic Games and the star power of the athletes to focus attention on hunger and malnutrition, which affects dozens of countries around the world. Britain wants to make hunger a key issue of its presidency of the Group of Eight industrialized countries next year.
At the meeting, British Prime Minister David Cameron called global hunger and malnutrition “truly shocking” and a “silent crisis.” He pledged to work toward ending malnutrition for 20 million children during the next five years, and he called on the international community to do even more.
“You don't solve this by handing out food aid. How you solve this is by making sure women don't have children before they're ready, making sure governments enforce the rule of law, making sure the farmers can get their food to market. All of those complicated and difficult and different things need to be fixed. But we won't fix it without leadership and momentum, and that's what today is about," he said.
The International Food Policy Research Institute ranks the food situation as “alarming” or worse in countries as diverse as Bolivia, Mongolia and Kenya as well as much of Africa. Many of the countries with high hunger rates sent athletes to the Olympics.
Britain's double gold medal track star Mo Farah is from Somalia, a country with one of the world's highest rates of malnutrition. Farah runs a charity to help victims of the drought in the Horn of Africa.
“I'm lucky to have set up a new life here. Growing up for me, I originally came from Somalia as a little boy, and you know the situation out there is not great. And there are kids out there who need opportunities, who're in hunger and starving, so we must do something about it," he said.
Repeated efforts by the international community to address hunger have had some impact, but the problem is huge, affecting an estimated 170 million children and tens of millions more adults around the world. Aid groups are concerned that the drought in the United States and resulting higher food prices will push more people into malnutrition and hunger, and make it more difficult to help them.