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Food and Hunger Crisis Addressed at Madrid Summit

The on-going food crisis is the subject of a high-level summit being held Monday and Tuesday in Madrid, with representatives from 95 countries attending the UN sponsored event.

The food crisis – which began last year with soaring prices and food shortages – continues in many countries. However, it’s been overshadowed in recent months by the global economic crisis. The latest estimates say there are about 963-million hungry people in the world.

Alex Wijeratna, of the anti-poverty group ActionAid, is attending the summit and explained the purpose of this week’s meeting.

“It’s to launch something called a global partnership for food and agriculture, which is trying to re-galvanize the international community to really come together and have a new…compact, essentially, to tackle the endemic global food and hunger crisis,” he says.

He says that it’s time for the international community to pull “their boot straps up, come together, coordinate much more closely and cough up more money and expertise.”

The Madrid meeting is a follow-up to the emergency UN summit held in Rome last June. “It’s taking stock of what has happened since that last June meeting…and then saying, ok, now, people are recommitted, but we need better structures and better ways of organizing ourselves to really get on top of this food and hunger crisis,” he says.

He says that short, medium and long term plans are need to deal with the crisis and that local communities must be involved in the planning process. “The food system is not feeding poor people on the scale that we need,’ he says.

In Rome, donors pledged about $20 billion to deal with the food crisis, but little of that money has actually been given.

“There were some big pledges, but they haven’t trickled through. There does seem to be a recommitment from governments to find the money. We have to keep on putting more pressure on to hold them to their commitment… But it’s not just about the money. It’s the way things are organized… The head of the FAO today has said things could get worse and we could see more trouble in food markets,” he says.

ActionAid agrees with UN estimates that about $30 billion a year is need to improve agriculture and address the food crisis.

The Obama administration is pledging its support through a videotaped message from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that was aired at the Madrid summit Monday.

“She was saying President Obama has prioritized the global food and food insecurity issue as a top priority for the new administration. This is a very, very big signal and it’s great that it’s been said publically…to get farms that are flourishing and water for all. So the commitment seems to be there. We’ve got Hillary Clinton saying that to all the delegates here…and shows a re-engagement, a re-commitment from the US into these very, very important issues,” he says.