UPDATE - Curtain falls on controversial UN food summit
Author: Crispian Balmer
The gathering at the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) committed governments to honour a 1996 pledge to halve the number of hungry people in the world by 2015.
"Let's start the race against time now and show that together we can win the war against hunger and poverty, against scepticism and egoism," FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said in the closing session.
Although some 80 world leaders attended the summit, the heads of hardly any Western powers showed up, leading to charges that industrialised nations were indifferent to the plight of the estimated 800 million people who go hungry every day.
Indicating that the haves should do more for the have-nots, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said the defeat of global hunger was to everyone's benefit.
"The problem of hungry people in the world is, after terrorism, or indeed alongside terrorism, the most serious problem facing the international community," he said.
"One must remember that a starving man is a desperate man, perhaps even a dangerous one," he added.
Since the last food summit in 1996, the number of hungry people has fallen by some six million a year. The FAO says that number must jump to 22 million if the goals are to be met.
However, this week's summit revealed divisions about how to go about this pitting North against South, charities against governments and some Western powers against the United Nations.
FAMINE ON THE HORIZON
Against the backdrop of looming famine across six southern African states, the FAO says an additional $24 billion was needed each year in agricultural development aid.
The suggestion was met with stony silence by the United States and the European Union, with EU Aid Commissioner Poul Nielson arguing conflicts were at the root of most hunger crises and these could not be solved by cash calls.
The United States persuaded the U.N. to back research into genetically modified crops, suggesting these could lead to a "green revolution" bringing food for all. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) denounced the move as "irresponsible".
The United States continued to hold out against enshrining a global right to food - fearing it would lay Washington open to law suits from famine-stricken countries - but it did allow a two-year study into the vexed issue.
Developing nations used the summit to denounce farm subsidies paid out by wealthy nations, saying they distorted global commodity markets and made it impossible for producers in poor countries to compete.
With an estimated one person dying of hunger every four seconds, a forum of NGOs meeting alongside the summit branded the high-profile event a wasted opportunity.
"Far from analysing and correcting the problems that have made it impossible to make progress over the past five years toward eliminating hunger, this new plan of action compounds the error of 'more of the same failed medicine'," the forum said.
The war of words did not augur well for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa from August 26-September 4 - dubbed Earth Summit Two. The conclusions of the Rome meeting are due to feed into the Johannesburg event.
South Africa hopes some 100 world leaders will attend their Earth Summit, but judging by the turnout in Rome, they will be lucky to draw big name Western chiefs.
Besides Italy and Spain, no other wealthy country sent a top level delegation to Rome. Britain went one further and did not even address the event.
"I'm not sending a minister because I don't expect it to be an effective summit," Clare Short, Britain's overseas development secretary said.