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close this bookOvercoming Global Hunger (WB)
close this folderSession one: global challenge
View the documentWelcoming remarks
View the documentPartnership to fight hunger
View the documentA vision for a hunger-free partnership
View the documentParticipation of nongovernmental organizations
View the documentNothing grows from the top down
View the documentConference themes

A vision for a hunger-free partnership

Tony P. Hall

St. Francis of Assisi said, "We need to preach the gospel at all tunes and only if necessary do we need to use words." I believe he meant that we need not make speeches or talk so much, but rather act and demonstrate our love for our fellow man. I think action is a good word for us. It is not enough to come out of here with a good statement, a good direction. We must be people of action. Speak softly, but finely, and let our actions speak for themselves.

I want to thank the World Bank, President Preston, Dr. Serageldin, and especially my good friend Bill Stanton, who had the vision and the love not only of this Bank, but of the issue of hunger. I thank them for asking me to be part of this most important conference and for responding not only to this pressing issue, but to my twenty-two-day fast.

The reason for the fast was that I was frustrated with my colleagues in the American Congress for their failure to focus on and emphasis the importance of the hungry, not only in the world, but in the United States as well. How can we call ourselves leaders and yet not lead in the most basic of human rights: the right to eat, the right to food? How can we stand by end not make the children and the malnourished people of this world a priority, especially when we have the resources and knowledge to end hunger, or at a minimum decrease its prevalence substantially?

In reading the book of Isaiah, verse 58, about fasting, I felt that I was on a path that I could not turn back from, and that was to identify with the poor and to raise people's consciousness about the hungry.

Looking back on it, I was amazed at the experience. I looked on this act of fasting with the anxiety and dread that any man of habit feels when suddenly confronted with a duty that carried with it en action that is so unfamiliar, so out of his comfort zone, that the details and results are not up to him, and are beyond his understanding and control. Never theless the action, done in all humility, was very powerful to me. It was a moving experience that I admitted to my wife I would miss. I felt I was inspired by God and I still do. At other times I thought I would be labeled "the flake of & year." I thought this was the end of my career, but I was willing to give it up because I was so frustrated and angry at the lack of response from my own Congress and my own colleagues.

By going twenty-two days without food, with only water, I felt what it was like for some children as they go to school, how they are tired, falling asleep, sometimes dull, because they do not have enough food to feed their brains. I felt very old when, in the afternoon, I could not walk a block without being winded, and when I would lie down to rest I did not feel I could get up because I was so tired, without energy, and yet I was not hungry anymore. I remember an experience I had in 1984 in Ethiopia, on the upper plateau, where 50,000 people had come because they had heard—this was in the very early stages of the famine that food would be available. But when they arrived, nobody was there. There were no medicines, no doctors, no blankets. There was nothing As I was relating this to my own fast, I wondered how these people had walked so far. How were they able to get to the site?

What happened as a result of the fast, the thing that is so unpolitical, was that thousands of people across the country, even in other countries, wrote and asked, "What can we do?" Some started programs Some wrote and asked, "To whom can we donate our money?" "Who is really fighting hunger?" It was amazing that these thousands of letters and communications poured in from all fifty states of my own country.

Then Mike Espy, the secretary of agriculture, started a series of summits on domestic hunger in the United States He is very involved and very committed to this. In the Congress I have started a hunger caucus that has more than seventy members, and I am starting an outside group, the Congressional Hunger Center, to follow up on the issues we will be discussing in the next few days. The center will have a hunger intern program, the Mickey Leland Hunger Corps, which will send young people out to various hunger sites around the country for a few months, and on their return they will share their experiences with their colleagues or with the Congress itself We are also in the process of completing a high school hunger curriculum that we intend to offer to hundreds of schools around the nation, and eventually around the world.

We have here today in this room and at this conference the experts who know hunger issues better than anyone else You live with it, you fight it, and you are committed to doing something about it. We have a chance to make a major difference together.

One sensitive problem that has long plagued our fight against hunger is the long-standing debate about whether hunger can best be solved with a top-down approach or with a participatory bottom-up approach Another major debate is whether we should aim our resources at short term relief or long-term solutions One of the best possible outcomes of this conference would be agreement about the best approaches to take.

We here in Washington have tried to end poverty for years Our policies, developed apart from the Poor's everyday realities, have not completely worked. Our ideas of what is best for the people of Gonaives, Haiti, might not be their idea of what they need. I have seen whole communities defeat hunger. They are like an oasis in a desert of hunger. Their solutions work because they come from the bottom up We need to do everything we can to support solutions to hunger that work, no matter where they come from.

In this context, the NGOs deserve praise for their programs and the arguments they put forth that incorporate a bottom-up approach and a responsible mixture of short- and long-term solutions. The NGOs' involvement in a hunger strategy is absolutely essential if we are ever to succeed. More and more, NGOs are successfully convincing governments and multilateral groups that they must provide both short-term and long term solutions to the problems of world hunger and poverty NGOs are driving home to world leaders the notion that solutions to hunger cannot be imposed from the top down. Progress can best be made when the poor are given the opportunity to design solutions to their own problems.

We must increase our aid and our resources and be sure that they get to the poorest of the poor. I think the Bank deserves credit by increasing its lending to such sectors as health, nutrition, and education The Bank is our friend, and we can all help our friend by continuing to encourage it to pursue economic growth that not only empowers the poor, but enables them to participate.

Our conference should be like a grand bonfire that heats a room during the winter months, and while it bums brightly it provides warmth and comfort, but if you separate the logs from the sticks and scatter them piece by piece around the room, they burn out Some might continue to burn, but they would not heat the room, they would not do the job We need to work together as a team, share our resources, and not reinvent the wheel. We must commit to a plan and work like that bonfire burning brightly to give warmth, comfort, and vision to a cold and hungry world.