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Iraq War Shouldn't Distract from Ongoing Hunger Programs, Warns UN's Annan - 2003-02-19

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the possibility of war in Iraq should not distract governments from the fight to combat hunger and poverty in the world. Mr. Annan was speaking at a conference of the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome.

In his address to the IFAD governing council, Mr. Annan said this conference comes at a time of uncertainty and anxiety throughout the world. He said the "possibility of war on Iraq is one that weighs heavily on the entire United Nations family."

The U.N. secretary-general added that "the present crisis should not detract us from our determination to carry out the wider agenda of the United Nations" - that is, to help raise food productions as a means to combat hunger and poverty.

Mr. Annan urged more investments in rural productivity programs. He said the impact of AIDS on rural communities, particularly in Africa, must be addressed.

Mr. Annan said because of AIDS, farming skills are being lost, agricultural development efforts are declining, rural livelihoods are disintegrating and household earnings dropping. All this, he added, while the cost of caring for the ill rises exponentially.

The secretary-general reminded his audience that world leaders adopted the U.N. Millennium Declaration to make the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger an overriding priority. The first objective of this was to halve the number of hungry by 2015.

This goal can be reached, Mr. Annan said, but only if governments "keep their sights on the fact that three-quarters of the world's poor still live in rural areas, drawing their livelihood from agriculture and other rural activities."