Dear Blog Readers, For the past few days I have been covering the Second International Conference on Nutrition at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. I was not planning to write about it on my blog but a blog reader asked me to, so here I go.
Since 1996, I’ve covered several World Food Summits at the FAO headquarters in Rome and I admit that I love immersing myself in the international environment there. There is always an interesting cast of characters — in the past I’ve listened to Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez speaking at the FAO. And after spending so much time covering the Vatican (mostly men in clerical collars and a few nuns and Swiss Guards here and there) and Italian politicians (men in elegant suits and women in pantsuits and spike heels) who live in their own byzantine Italian political world, it is so refreshing to have the wide variety of nationalities and cultures represented at an organization like the FAO. (My cameraman friend Cristiano from Reuters TV told me he loves covering stories at FAO because he has never seen so many beautiful and exotic women in one place)
On top of that, how can anyone disagree with their goals – the importance of feeding the hungry is something we can all agree on. We have sometimes wondered how the FAO seems capable of spending a lot of money on bureaucrats with cushy tax-free jobs, who take forever to come up with elaborate reports on obvious problems, however, overall I think the FAO is a good institution. I am an even bigger fan of the World Food Programme, but more on that another time.
But back to the coverage of the conference. The first nutrition conference was in 1992 and since then, according to FAO statistics, hunger has dropped by 21 percent. That is great news. However 800 million people still go hungry. According to FAO statistics, 2.8 million children under age five die of undernutrition every year. That should not happen in 2014. The conference also addressed the question of obesity. FAO data shows that 42 million children under the age of five are already overweight in 2013, and in 2010 five hundred million adults around the globe were affected by obesity.
Clearly there is a lot to work on.
The conference came out with the “Rome Declaration on Nutrition”, a wide-ranging report declaring some facts about health and nutrition around the globe.
Here are a few quotes from that: Rome Declaration on Nutrition:
–“epidemics such as the Ebola virus disease, pose tremendous challenges to food security and nutrition.”
–“…need to address the impact of climate change and other environmental factors on food security and nutrition”
–“undernutrition was the main underlying cause of death in children under five, causing 45% of all child deaths in 2013”
–“Family farmers and smallholders, notably women farmers, play an important role in reducing malnutrition…”
–“food losses and waste throughout the food chain should be reduced in order to contribute to food security, nutrition and sustainable development;”
The conference also came up with a Framework for Action which included 60 points on how to tackle nutrition issues. These included things from “periodic deworming for all school-age children in endemic areas” and “provide iron, and Vitamin A supplementation for pre-school children” to “Conduct appropriate marketing campaigns and lifestyle change communication programs…”
The days were chock-a-block with speeches from representatives around the world – over 170 countries were taking part, so we had to pick and choose.
The Pope was perhaps the highlight of the event arriving in the plenary hall today in his white robes and delivering a strong speech in which he decried the “primacy of profit” and “market priorities” that have made food a “commodity” and not a basic human right. The Pope insisted that the poor should not be “left at the street corner” and declared, “We ask for dignity, not for charity.”
Pope Francis also spoke about the risk to the health of man when the earth is destroyed and earned a loud applause when he noted that, “God always forgives insults and ill-treatment, yes, God always forgives. Men forgive sometimes, but the earth never forgives. We must take care of Mother Earth so she doesn’t answer with destruction.”
Adding a note of glamour to the event today was Queen Letizia of Spain who wore an elegant tomato-red dress and delivered a passionate speech about the need to combat malnutrition. She concluded recommending a Mediterranean diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and lots of exercise. She also announced Spain’s commitment to the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and the Framework for Action agreed to at the conference on Wednesday.
(As gorgeous as she is, she did seem a bit to me like a cookie-cutter copy of the beautiful and talented Queen Rania of Jordan)
FAO officials said they were pleased by the way in which a group with representatives from 170 countries were so unified in their commitment to combat malnutrition. After the meetings today I spoke to FAO’s Chief Nutritionist, Brian Thompson, who said it is not about just food, it is about economic and social factors. “The reasons for the persistently high and unacceptable levels of malnutrition in the world today is because of social exclusion, and economic marginalization.”