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G8 Leaders Called on to Address Hunger, Poverty

In this Tuesday, July 26, 2011 file photo, then seven month old Somali boy Minhaj Gedi Farah is treated in a field hospital of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Dadaab, Kenya. Somalia was hard hit by drought and parts of the country suffered fam

Humanitarian groups say they want G8 leaders to make food security and poverty top priorities at their upcoming summit. The leaders gather later this month at Camp David in Maryland.

In 2009, at the L’Aquila Summit in Italy, G8 leaders pledged $22 billion over three years to improve agriculture and bolster food security. They were responding to the food crisis that began in 2008, when high prices and shortages triggered riots in a number of countries.The summit also resulted in the U-S led L’Aquila Food Security Initiative. It was backed by 26 countries and 14 organizations.

However, some leading humanitarian groups say despite the pledge and follow-up efforts, much more needs to be done to end hunger.

Neil Watkins of ActionAid said the L’Aquila commitment is about to expire.

“The G8 will face a choice on whether to sustain and expand that commitment to fighting hunger around the world or rather to let it expire. For anti-poverty advocates, there is a key question that is facing the G8 and President Obama. And that is: Will President Obama and other G8 leaders step up and agree to a bold new deal to fight hunger and malnutrition or will this just be another summit in a long line of meetings with warm words, but few actions?”

Renewed commitment?

Watkins added that leaders are expected to launch a new food security initiative with greater involvement by the private sector.

“The G8’s focus on food security and hunger is vital. In the past year, we’ve seen a famine in the Horn of Africa, continuing to see rising food prices across the globe, and most recently in the Sahel region of West Africa around 13.4 million people are facing hunger. It’s the second crisis in that region in two years and over a million children in that region are at risk of severe malnutrition,” he said.

Gawain Kripke of Oxfam America praised President Obama’s food security efforts since 2009.

“President Obama has majored on agriculture and food security as part of his foreign aid agenda. And he successfully cajoled other G8 leaders and many others to take that agenda up three years ago. So our expectation is that President Obama will do the same here in Camp David. So we’ve been calling for President Obama to keep that momentum up – to keep pushing for bigger and better and more ambitious goals and more ambitious resource commitments. That’s to say funding,” he said.

Kripke said there are about a billion people around the world who don’t have enough to eat.

“The trends in front of us are only going to get worse with population growth, competition for food and climate change,” he said.

Could have been better

Tom Hart of the humanitarian group ONE, is critical of what’s been done since the L’Aquila Summit. He describes the results as lackluster.

“Donors so far have distributed, disbursed, about 22 percent of the $22 billion that they pledged. We expect that number – that 22 percent delivery – to go up over the course of the next few months as pledges are indeed turned into disbursements on the ground. But again it’s been a challenge,” he said.

The 2009 G8 Summit also led to the creation of a trust fund called the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program or GAFSP. Hart said only 7 of the 40 signatories to the L’Aquila Initiative have pledged funding to GAFSP.

Michael Klosson of Save the Children wants G8 leaders to make a major commitment to ending malnutrition affecting millions of children.

“They’re at risk of being stunted. That may sound like you just lose a few inches or something like that, but in fact it permanently impairs your physical and mental abilities and it is also a big drain on the growth of nations and their economies. And G8 leaders can’t claim true progress if economies are growing but children are not,” he said.

The G8 Camp David Summit will be held May 18th and 19th. President Obama has invited leaders from Ethiopia, Ghana, Benin and Tanzania to take part in summit food security talks.