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close this bookOvercoming Global Hunger (WB)
close this folderAssociated event- the ethical dimensions of global hunger: a panel discussion
View the documentOpening statement
View the documentStatement
View the documentStatement
View the documentStatement
View the documentFloor discussion
View the documentClosing statement

Opening statement

Ismail Serageldin

We have worked hard all day at the preparatory workshop for tomorrow's international conference on "Overcoming Global Hunger," and some of you have been working on these issues m preparation for the conference for many weeks. I am delighted that you could be with us tonight.

Although this panel is not on the formal program of the conference, it is an essential part of it. I am particularly pleased that it is being held on the World Bank's premises, because I believe that emphasizing the ethical dimensions of hunger from inside the premises of the World Bank is a point that needs to be made.

The issues of hunger around the world are not technical issues. Of course, there are problems of technical design, of particular interventions, for example, whether iodine supplementation programs are better carried out in connection with health programs or with feeding programs, but these kinds of issues are secondary. The core issue is an ethical dimension. I believe unabashedly that it degrades us all as human beings to know that a billion people around the world are going hungry, that the most basic of basic needs is not being met.

Earlier today I said that we should be the new abolitionists, and I mean that I believe that just as in the nineteenth century some people spoke up and said that it was unconscionable that people should exist in slavery, in this day and age it is unconscionable that one billion people should go hungry We should commit ourselves based on the same ethical movement It was not the issue of the economics of the slave trade It was not the issue of the politics of the slave trade It was the issue of the ethical dimension—that it was profoundly inadmissible that human beings could live in such degradation and that slavery degraded those who accepted it and were willing to tolerate its continued existence that eventually overturned the institution of slavery in this country.

In this spirit I have also retained the words that my friend, John Clark used earlier today, that we should have a sense of anger about global hunger. I would use the words "sense of outrage" that such a situation could continue to exist While we will not be able to remove hunger today or tomorrow, we must not quiescently accept its continuation We must, from all forums, from wherever we are positioned, challenge the continued existence of hunger in a world of plenty Our world is plentiful. Hunger is not an issue of food supplies Even in the face of the worst drought in a hundred years, last year southern Africa avoided a famine by taking sound action.

It is this quiet acceptance that we can and must now end, including the lack of resolve on the part of local and national governments, of international agencies, and of private groups, all of whom attend meetings, make declarations, and then do not suit their actions to their words We need this dedicated outrage to keep the issue on the front burner and to carry us further in the fight against hunger.

So strongly do I feel about this point that I felt that we had to have a discussion, at least among ourselves, on the ethical dimension of the fight against global hunger before the official start of the international conference tomorrow. A discussion that I hope will help us to arm ourselves with that sense of outrage, to ourselves with the sense that the most fundamental of human rights is violated for more than a billion people every day If people are going hungry, we cannot talk only about whether they have the right to vote. Hunger is the most extreme form of deprivation of human rights.

Tonight is the forum that provides the opportunity to explore and discuss these issues. I am privileged to say that we have two very distinguished Let me first introduce Monsignor Jorge Mejia of the Vatican who is the vice president of the Commission of Justice and Peace, but who is here as the designated representative of the Holy See. He and I tacked about the this conference in Rome some time ago, and he challenged me by asking, '´How do you think you will get people to change their polices? How will you get governments to change their attitudes?" I bold him, "Monsignor, there is only one way: to shame them into it' Ours is not a political organization, but collectively public opinion has a big weight The mobilization of public opinion, the mobilization of the shamefulness that is associated with the continuation of the inadequate policies that perpetuate a billion people in hunger, this is what I think it is all about I am delighted that he could be with us tonight.

On my right is my good friend [avid Beckmarck. who for a number of years was a colleague in the Bank, and is now president of Bread for the World. In the time he was at the Bank we had many discussions about the ethical dimensions of development problems David felt so strongly about these issues that he resigned from the Bank and joined Bread for the World d to work specifically on the hunger problem. I am delighted that he agreed to be on this panel today the third panelist who was to join us unfortunately sent his apologies, but he faxed his thoughtful text, which will be circulated That person is my good friend Ibrahima Fall assistant secretary general of the United Nations for Human Rights (not the assistant secretary general for humanitarean relief). What we are talking about here is human rights Fundamental human rights. Ibrahima Fall could not pin us tonight because he has to respond to questions of the Third Committee of the General Assembly in New York On his behalf, I wanted to extend his apologies to the group because he very much wanted to be here, and were it not that the Third Committee of the General Assembly is the soveregabody to which he has to report and they are questioning him on the programs that are being done there, he certainly would be here with us I know that he is with us in spins.

I know that a number of you also feel strongly about these issues, awl what we have planned for tonight is not a series of lengthy presentations, but a launching of a panel discussion and a dialogue In this spirit I propose that each of the two panelis Monsignor Mejia and David Beckmann use ten minutes or so to make their opening comments, and then we will open the floor for comments, questions, and discussion There will be occasion later to circulate lengthier formal papers for those who wish to do so Far myself, I will not make a formal presentation in the panel beyond these introductory remarks.

I know that many of you are interested in voicing your thoughts because three people have already signed up to speak after the panelists. I will begin with them right after the opening statement.