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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
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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.


Jorge Marid Mejia

The conference we are participating m, thanks to the invitation of the World Bank, is significantly entitled "A Conference on Actions to Reduce Hunger Worldwide" I emphasize the world actions to reduce hunger worldwide are and should be political actions, economic actions, and even social actions if civil society is to be involved, nationally and internationally, as it ought to be, and if the hoped for results are to be not only true results but also permanent ones.

However, actions of such different kinds are first of all human actions, individual human actions, even if they come from a given social context and tend to transform that context.

Now, human actions are of themselves ethical actions. That is to say they are actions that are morally inspired; either good or evil. Because omissions are as important as positive actions regarding the solution of problems such as global hunger, one should be prepared to assess not only actions but also omissions.

We are all agreed, I gather, that the problem of global hunger, which is also and indeed primarily a problem of concrete individual persons being hungry and having nothing to eat (men, women, children, older people), can be solved Put in other teens, it is not currently beyond the pale of the human community to have people eat enough, even in the most remote comers of the world.

According to recent data of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) that were examined at the FAO's twenty seventh conference held in Rome during the past two weeks, world food production is sufficient to meet the demands of the world's population considered as a whole . The point IS therefore not the lack of food. Nor is it, according to another FAO study, the imbalance between agricultural food production and demographic growth, which at this time appears to be stationary or tending to slow down.

The main difficulties, indeed the real obstacles in the way of adequately producing, trading, and distributing food so that it reaches everybody, are economic and political Some economic and political decisions, or again omissions, are responsible for the lack of a solution to the problem of hunger Consequently, hunger is not a kind of unavoidable necessity, a kind of curse hanging over the Lives of so many people, a curse induced by fate.

It is sometimes said that if the political "will" were there, at least some of the economic problems regarding hunger could be solved.

There is, therefore, an ethical question involved in global hunger. Whether or not to put some mechanisms in action depends on what criteria one chooses to follow in one's actions or inaction.

These criteria can be approached from different perspectives If one believes that purely economic or even political considerations are first and foremost in determining a certain course of action, and not the human rights and duties of all those involved, then hunger might easily continue unabated, or even extend and deepen This would also be true even if the lack of enough food were not seen as the direct aim of actions or omissings inspired by such criteria, but only as a painful result.

Does this mean that solidarity and sharing should take the place of sound economic planning and enlightened political decisions? To this question the answer is no. But we should add immediately that solidarity and sharing should also inspire economic and political decisions, especially in times of universal crisis, such as the one we are going through now.

Solidarity and sharing are, of course, ethical concepts and ethically inspired actions.

The problem lies deeper however I shall now try to approach it from the particular angle that might prove useful for our present discussion.

People have a right to be adequately nourished. Human beings, according to the United Nations 1948 Declaration in Article 3, have a right to life, as well as to liberty and security. And according to Article 25, a human being also has a right to an adequate standard of living "for the health and wellbeing of himself and his family, including food".

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) is yet more explicit. Article 11, paragraph 2 states: "The State Parties to the present Covenant recognize the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger ".

So, the right to be nourished is now seen as a "fundamental" right And let me add that since 1966 the declaration has become a covenant Now, a covenant implies obligations, as we shall soon see.

I believe this is a very solid ethical basis for assessing the problem of hunger worldwide, as well as for deciding on the correct actions to be taken.

Rights, in fact, exist to be respected and implemented, and for this reason they go hand in hand with the corresponding duties. Indeed, according to John Henry Newman (A Letter . . . to the Duke of Norfolk): "Conscience has rights because it has duties ".

For this reason, the covenant just quoted proceeds from the formulation of the fundamental right to be free from hunger, to expressing what the state parties should do to implement this right and what it implies. It goes from rights to duties; or, if you wish, supports the right with the corresponding duties. Otherwise, rights remain null and void.

In this connection, let me quote some sentences from Article 11.1 of the 1966 covenant '´The State Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right," (namely, the one to an adequate standard of living, "including adequate food"), "recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international, crop-ration based on free consent " Further down in paragraph 2 it says "The State Parties . . . shall take individually and collectively and through international cooperation, the measures, including specific measures, which are needed." These specific measures are then spelled out under sections a) and b) in the same Article 11. I do not need to read them out We all know them. The only pending question is to put them into practice. In a true sense, I am afraid, they have been awaiting implementation since 1966.

Moreover, the World Declaration on Nutrition of December 1992, which emerged from the FAO/World Health Organization International Congress in Rome, envisages not only the right to nutrition, but also recognizes "that access to nutritionally adequate and safe food is a right of each individual" (Article 1) In this sense, the right to nutrition implies adequate economic capacities and a safe environment.

We have thus made the transition from right to duty, and conscience has been mentioned in relation to both, if we are to take John Henry Newman's words seriously The "ethical dimensions of global hunger" have appeared before our eyes.

If I may now use a different perspective to express the same reality, I shall say that the problem of hunger, indeed of global hunger—but without forgetting what I said above about concrete individual persons who arc hungry—is a problem of conscience, ethically considered.

Conscience, in fact, manifests to us what is wrong and what is right, and in doing so expresses what we are obliged to do or to avoid It is the herald of moral obligation, as the recent Papal Encyclical "Veritatis Splendor" has admirably explained.

In the face of the problem of global hunger, conscience reacts and proclaims that there are some concrete actions, whether economic, political, or social, to be taken, and other actions to be avoided When such actions are not decided upon, or others are decided upon in their stead, then the problem in question not only remains unsolved, but we become responsible for the failure. We become responsible, according to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which we have undersigned, before the international community; but also responsible before ourselves; and, of course, before those who are bound to remain hungry, or die of hunger As a Christian, I would add that we are responsible before God, the Father of all.

Conscience, it could be said, is a very personal matter. Whose conscience, then, is or should be affected by the problem we are facing?

My first answer to such a pertinent question would be: the conscience of whoever is nearer to the one who suffers.

The term "near" in the comparative, should not be interpreted locally. It might, of course, be read so, because we are called, as fellow human beings, to share our food with whomever we see next to us being a victim of hunger This seems to be particularly true when people are victims of hunger because they are innocent victims of war, as is the case in more than one part of the world, as currently in the former Yugoslavia, for example.

But, in a deeper sense, "near" means, in this context, whoever is able, by his or her actions or omissions, to alleviate hunger or to ignore it, which always makes it worse.

As it is here a question of ethical decisions, there is no need to be more precise Each of us knows, or should know, exactly where he or she stands.

Again, there is such a thing as a common conscience, or shared values in a given society, be it national or international.

That is why it is so important that values are held up, promoted, and defended among all of us. I mean, of course, true values. Values are closely interconnected with rights and duties.

The existence and real influence of values make all the difference One could ask whether the fact that global hunger still exists and is worsening is not a sign that some values at least are no longer operative, or rather, whether or not they are considered values at all.

If global hunger is an ethical problem, then we should ask this question, and face the consequences.

As a Christian, I am convinced that the problem of global hunger, because it is ethical, affects one's relationship to God.

God not only commands us to feed our brothers and sisters, if they happen to be hungry while we are not; but also, much more radically, says to us that where we did feed or did not feed those who were hungry, we did feed or did not feed Him, as in the parable of the Final Judgment (Mt 25:35-41).


1. FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture 1993, Document C 93/2 (Rome: FAO, 1993), 2-10.

2. FAO, Agriculture Towards 2010, Document C 93/94 (Rome: FAO, 1993).


David Beckmann

In our era the most pressing ethical question related to hunger is how do we organize political will to end hunger?

As the papers for this conference have pointed out, a series of conferences over many years have recognized people's right to food and outlined feasible programs for getting rid of mass hunger in the world. The basic problem in carrying out those mandates is that we have not been able to mobilize the necessary political will.

Political will is also an issue within the World Bank The Bank has been committed to poverty reduction as a primary objective for twenty years. McNamara made his Nairobi speech on rural poverty in 1973. The last two presidents of the Bank have consistently said that reducing poverty is the basic objective of the World Bank, but there are still many internal meetings in the Bank where the staff who are most serious about reducing poverty and hunger feel as if they are a beleaguered and idealistic minority.

Despite twenty years of real commitment at the level of the president of the Bank, doubts remain even among many Bank staff about how serious the Bank is about its stated intentions of reducing poverty and hunger The challenge for the Bank, as well as for antipoverty efforts more generally, is to take steps that will establish the political will to actually carry out the rhetoric.

I will speak from two areas of my experience: the work I am doing now with Bread for the World, and my fifteen years of work within the World Bank.

Bread for the World

Bread for the World is a church-based citizens' movement against hunger. We have about 44,000 individual members and 1,000 affiliated local churches throughout the United States. We get moral and financial support from about fifty different denominations all the way across the theological spectrum, and we have some members who are not Christian.

We organize people to lobby the U.S. Congress and the administration on issues that are important to hungry people in our country and around the world. Because or our active grassroots network, Bread for the World accounts for more than half of all the lobbying done in this country for poor people in developing countries. We also have an influence on some issues that affect poor and hungry people within the United States. It has taken twenty years to build Bread for the World. But it now provides practical links between the high aspirations of people in South Dakota, Arizona, or Colorado and policymaking in Washington that affects hungry people throughout the United States and worldwide.

Others have spoken about guilt and outrage as motives for action to overcome hunger. But I suspect that most Bread for the World members are more deeply motivated by a sense of abundance, of having been blessed, accepted, and forgiven Christian faith in a loving God is what has given Bread for the World its staying power I suspect that most people who actively work to overcome hunger are grounded in grace, shalom, Islam, love of nature, or some other positive and transcendent ethos.

Bread for the World's annual budget is less than US$4 million, but almost every year we get the US. Congress to move hundreds of millions of dollars into programs that are good for poor and hungry people. Sometimes we help win broad shifts in U.S. policy that are worth far more.

Bread for the World Institute has just published Hunger 1994: Transforming the Politics of Hunger. This book is a stage in a multiyear process of consultation and study on how to change US. politics as it affects hungry people in our country and around the world We intend to help build a broad social and political movement against hunger and poverty If we want to make the US. government a serious ally of hungry people, we need to transform the politics of hunger.

I urge you to get Hunger 1994 and read it Let me make just two points from Hunger 1994 here.

First, to overcome hunger, people and organizations who are already working with poor and hungry people need to become more political. That includes official development agencies such as the World Bank. The Bank's charter and systems of governance have, at least until now, made it almost impossible for the Bank to think straight about politics. Nongoverrnmental organizations (NGOs) and others who are trying to work with hungry people also need to get more political.

The United States now has more than 150,000 private agencies passing out food to hungry people So there is no scarcity of concern about hunger and poverty, but most of it is apolitical Especially in the United States, we tend to be privately generous and publicly stingy Nearly all the 150,000 private feeding agencies have sprouted up since 1980, during a period when public policies have been harsh toward low-income people The private feeding movement, as fast as it has grown, has not kept up with the spread of hunger. The US. feeding movement is a clear demonstration that people and organizations who are concerned about hunger and poverty need to engage more— and more effectively- in changing the politics of hunger.

A second point from Hunger 1994, which seems especially relevant for this conference, is that US. political decisions about world hunger will be significantly influenced by the politics of domestic hunger. The U.S. government won't care much about what happens in Somalia or to poor people in the Philippines or Brazil until it cares much more actively about the plight of hungry people in southeast Washington, Appalachia, or south Texas. Serious U.S. commitment to international development, if it comes, will he froth on a wave of domestic social concern.

Bread for the World has been able to get tens of thousands of people working on foreign aid reform, partly because we also empower them to work on issues that effect the 30 million people in the United States who face hunger.

One final Bread for the world experience that I want to share is our work this year to reform U.S. foreign assistance. We call our campaign "Many Neighbors, One Earth." We anticipated last year that the end of the Cold War would put the future of U.S. foreign assistance very much in doubt US. foreign assistance is being dramatically revamped, and no one can yet tell whether it will be slashed or meaningfully reformed So we have been campaigning to make sustainable development—especially reducing poverty and hunger in environmentally sound ways the primary purpose of post-Cold War foreign ail We have also been trying to shift money from Cold War driven aspects of the US aid budget into programs that are focused on sustainable development. About 185 organization have worked with us on the "Mary Neighbors, One Ear" campaign, and other organizations have worked in various coalitions with us.

What happens at the White House, two blocks away, will have more impact on world hunger than any decisions here at the World Bank. We should all be trying to get President Clinton to focus on what is good for developing countries and for poor people in developing countries Hunger and poverty in other countries have not been among the Clinton administration's priorities. So foreign aid money has been cut. The foreign aid policy bill was put off. A full year after President Clinton came to office, his administration has yet to appoint a US. executive director to the World Bank.

My sense is that senior managers of the World Bank do not all share the same vision of its future, and that the Bank is unlikely to set any clear new course for itself as long as its largest shareholder government, at the highest level, really does not care much what the Bank does.

The United States is important in the world economy and in international decisions. So until we can get the president of the United States to provide some leadership for international development and hunger reduction, we are going to have a very difficult time making progress against hunger and poverty worldwide.

The "Many Neighbors, One Earth" campaign generated about 90,000 letters to Congress in 1993. Constituents have told their representatives that foreign aid that empowers and enables poor and hungry people is important and should be expanded Almost half the members of the House of Representatives and thirty senators have become cosponsors of the "Many Neighbors, One Earth" resolution, which calls for a shift of policy and money toward poverty-focused activities. Partly because of this grassroots pressure, congressional leaders have been pushing the administration to move forward with a foreign aid policy bile.

This discussion of Bread for the World's work provides some practical illustrations of ways to build political will to overcome hunger. We shouldn't just hope for political will, waiting for some politician or journalist to appear with the necessary conviction, vision, and persuasive power Building political will is a project that requires planning and work over many years—a profoundly ethical project.

The World Bank

Now allow me to reflect a bit on my fifteen years at the World Bank. I did not leave the Bank because I thought it was a horrible institution or that no good could be done here. On the contrary, I think a lot of good is done here. But the World Bank has a fundamental problem of political will: it is responsible to its shareholder governments.

The industrial countries' governments dominate the Bank's board. What the Bank does thus depends heavily on what the governments of the United States, Germany, Japan, and the other industrial countries want The Bank lends to developing countries' governments, and it feels pressure from them too What the World Bank does in India depends profoundly on what the Indian government wants.

The mandate of the World Bank is to reduce poverty, but its accountability structure makes the Bank always beholden to governments Its board of governors are the folks who drive around in limousines at the Bank-Fund annual meetings. Finance ministers are not usually nasty people, but reducing poverty is seldom the highest priority of any government.

The industrial countries' governments give inconsistent signals to the Bank In the board they may agree that the Bank should focus resolutely on reducing poverty. Yet the next week the Bank may be making a decision related to francophone West Africa, and the French government has other interests it wants to push Or the Bank is doing something in Egypt or Viet Nam, and the U.S. government has priorities other than what's best for poor people.

Similarly, developing countries' governments are seldom preoccupied with reducing poverty and hunger, and they also often pull the Bank off course. The World Bank has many wonderfully committed staff, and they do a great deal or important and good work. But again and again the Bank's governance system does not back them up with consistent mission driven political will.

Can we fix this problem? Even if we could change formal governance structures, an institution that manages such large-scale finance will be forced to work closely with governments.

The change in the Bank's information policy that is about to be implemented is a tremendously important reform. People all over the world will be much better informed about what the World Bank and governments are saying to each other and planning to do. Groups like Bread for the World and the National Wildlife Federation, our counterparts in Central America or India, and local community organizations and journalists will be in a better position to influence Bank-related policies and projects Knowledge is power, and pro-poor interests will now have more possibilities for holding the Bank's feet to the fire.

I applaud this measure that the Bank's management and board have taken. NGOs have pushed for years for a more open information policy The Banking Committee of the US House of Representatives pushed hard for it. It is a small, but significant, and almost irrevocable shift in the balance of power For years to come Bank managers and staff will be under a somewhat different set of pressures.

The next step should be to help groups who represent pro-poor interests become involved with the Bank and with Bank-financed activities They will often criticize, but they will, in the process, help the Bank do a better job.

Commercial and other interests will also have more information More open, democratic processes will not necessarily result in decisions that are better for the poor. Because the Bank's mission is to reduce poverty, the Bank should actively help poor people and pro poor NGOs to engage in the planning of Bank-financed activities. NGOs do not now have the necessary capacity. As president of a relatively large antipoverty advocacy group, I have gained a sharp sense of how limited our resources are in relation to those of official agencies It has been a stretch for US NGOs even to participate meaningfully in the planning of this conference. US. environmental groups are large and sophisticated by NGO standards, but they have had to focus on a score of projects to make their broader points about the need for World Bank reform The Bank is churning out more than 200 projects a year. NGOs do not now have the capacity to have even a minor influence on most of them, let alone the hundreds of other major projects and policy decisions that other official agencies and governments are developing.

The Bank's new information policy makes NGO involvement more feasible What is needed now is a decentralized system of small grants and other assistance to advocacy groups, especially in the developing countries, so that they can modify the pressures on Bank managers and staff as particular decisions are made NGOs, especially well-financed industrial country NGOs, should shift more of their resources to advocacy. Bilateral aid agencies, public and private foundations, and others should also help with funding In addition, we need a new institution or set of institutions to help pro-poor organizations make the agents of large-scale development activities more accountable.

The Bank could give capacity building along these lines a tremendous boost forward. At this conference the Bank is indicating that it might help organize a consultative mechanism to assist and empower hungry people: the ultra-poor. This proposed network of institutions should, in my view, strengthen pro-poor groups around the world to pull the Bank and other large official systems in the direction of what is good for really hungry people. This would include a stronger social orientation in the design of macroeconomic policies and measures to empower poor people to shape projects that will affect them. A consultative network of institutions is a good model—decentralized, but in close communication with one another. It would include both governmental and nongovernmental institutions, some already existing and some new.

Would the Bank cooperate in building this sort of network? Why should the Bank strengthen its critics? This conference shows that the Bank just might do so The Bank invited NGOs to help plan the conference, and the conference is indeed better because it includes criticism and dissent NGOs here are saying things that some Bank stain' themselves would like to say, but could not say so boldly.

If pro-poor citizen groups become better able to become involved in specific and informed ways, the Bank would need to face up to lots of controversy and make far-reaching, difficult changes. The process would encourage the Bank to be more consistency faithful to its antipoverty mission and, over time, would broaden political support for the Bank.


1. Until 1991, David Beckmann was on the staff of the World Bank, most recently as the Bank's lead adviser on nongovernmental organizations and popular participation.


Ibrahima Fall

Today, despite efforts reaching back to the establishment of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 1945, hunger, malnutrition, and starvation remain a scourge to a significant, and in some areas growing, part of the population of our planet. This scourge is not only one of developing countries Hunger and malnutrition, especially among children, is ever present, and is even increasing, in industrial societies Nor is it a problem purely of economics or commodity distribution, because many of its causes are related to human rights, as are many elements essential to its solution.

The background papers prepared for this conference dearly show that new directions, techniques, and methods and renewed political commitments are required to face the challenge of world hunger Comprehensive efforts are required, nationally and internationally, to change the economic, political, and social factors that contribute to the maintenance of and increase in hunger and malnutrition. Important future actions include fostering people's participation in decisionmaking, reducing inequalities, making efforts in favor of women and the excluded, and establishing impartial and functioning legal systems to provide juridical security for property and economic activity.

But what of the human rights perspective? What contribution can the United Nations system for the promotion and protection of human rights make to the objectives of this conference, in particular, to an effective strategy to reduce hunger and generate the political will necessary to implement that strategy? Unfortunately, the preparatory documents I have been able to study are silent on the human rights aspects of the fight against hunger. Yet much has been done, and the human rights perspective has much to offer to the goal of overcoming hunger.

Is not human rights the very basis of the United Nations work against hunger? In 1941 President Roosevelt announced the objective of a future world in which people everywhere would enjoy four basic freedoms freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Those four freedoms are reflected throughout the United Nations Charter and are encapsulated in the preamble's commitment to achieving "social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom" This objective has provided the framework for all our subsequent work in the field of human rights spanning some forty-five years.

The fight against hunger, malnutrition, and starvation from the human rights perspective is based on everyone's right to "a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing ,, housing and medical care," as laid down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights Much more precision is given to this right by Article 11, paragraph 2, of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which recognizes "the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger" and provides for states party to that treaty to take measures, individually and through international cooperation, including specific programs needed:

(a) To improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian systems in such a way as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources;

(b) Taking into account the problems of both food-importing and food exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.

More than 126 countries have accepted the International Covenant not only as a proclamation of individual rights for their people, but also as a basic principle for state policy.

A large number of other international human rights instruments dealing with such issues as women, discrimination, armed conflict, refugees, and disaster relief, to name only a few, also explicitly recognize the right to food and the specific protection of this right. More recently, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, now ratified by more than 150 states, recognizes children's right to "a standard of living adequate for the Child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development," and provides for assistance and support programs for, among other things, nutrition.

A final word about the international legal framework for the right to adequate food. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights recognizes every human being's "inherent right to life" and the Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes that "every child has the inherent right to life." The Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that oversees the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, commented on the meaning of the phrase "inherent right to life":

The expression "inherent right to life" cannot properly be understood in a restrictive manner, and the protection of this right requires that States adopt positive measures. In this connection, the.

Committee considers that it would be desirable for States parties to take all possible measures to reduce infant mortality and to increase life expectancy, especially in adopting measures to eliminate malnutrition and epidemics.

There can be no doubt that international law clearly recognizes the individual's right to adequate food and that states have duties and responsibilities to protect that right, but what does the right to adequate food mean, and what are the ways available to ensure respect for that right? Centuries of attention by legal experts and political leaders has given much precision to such concepts as the right to a fair trial, although even today we continue to discover new aspects of that right. The right to food has not benefited from this historical attention, but that does not mean it is not a basic human right It does mean that we have to make a sustained effort now to define that right and to find adequate means to implement it and to measure the success of that implementation.

In the mid-1980s the Norwegian expert Professor Asbjorn Eide carried out a study of the right to adequate food as a human right. Many of the concerns, issues, and dilemmas we find in the background papers for this conference were also reflected in Professor Eide's study. In attempting to give more precision to the right to adequate food he proposed the following three guiding principles. First, food must be adequate in terms of nutritional quantity and quality, it must be safe from adverse alien substances, and it must be culturally acceptable in the context of prevailing food patterns Second, food procurement must be viable, that is, food must be available consistently along with the procurement of other basic human needs and obtaining it must not conflict with the need to respond to other household necessities; Third, access to food must be sustainable over time, that is, the physical and institutional environment must be optimally used, protected from erosion or destruction, and restored or replaced as necessary. Professor Eide combined these three guiding principles with three levels of national or state obligations in relation to the right to adequate food. The first is the duty to respect States must not interfere with the activities of individuals and groups, especially those based on existing food patterns, in a way that would defeat their right to adequate food. Second, states must act to protect the existing food pattern from distortion, to ensure food safety, or to counteract influences negatively affecting the existing food culture. Here one thinks of activities to limit the promotion of breastmilk substitutes. Third, states must take a variety of measures to fulfill the rights to adequate food, including correcting negative aspects of existing patterns of food distribution, incorporating nutritional considerations in development activities, providing for national food security, and ensuring assistance where needed,.

I believe that these considerations, while general in nature, provide a useful framework for discussion of the right to adequate food from a human rights perspective. One of the responsibilities of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, a group of ten experts, is to monitor the implementation and respect for the right to adequate food as set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. To do so it requests specific information from states on a wide range of matters that are also of concern in the background papers prepared for the conference, for example, statistical data on the extent of hunger or malnutrition among such especially vulnerable groups as landless peasants, marginalized peasants, rural workers, rural unemployed, urban unemployed) urban poor, migrant workers, indigenous peoples, children, elderly people, and other particularly vulnerable groups. The request also asks for data on differences between the situation of men and women. In addition, governments are asked to indicate measures they consider necessary to guarantee access to adequate food for each of the vulnerable or disadvantaged groups and for the worse off areas, and for the full implementation of the right to food for both men and women.

The committee reviews this information and discusses it with representatives of the concerned governments, often at the ministerial level, and then draws conclusions and makes recommendations. These may concern not only the government, but also international organizations because the covenant expressly recognizes international assistance and cooperation as one of the means for achieving respect for the rights it proclaims.

Another committee of growing importance for discussing issues of hunger and malnutrition with governments and international organizations is the Committee on the Rights of the Child, whose dynamic approach to its mandate includes the involvement of international organizations in the committees' discussions of a country's report and, more important, in considering practical ways and means of responding to a country's needs for assistance. This tripartite approach, government committee-international development and assistance organizations, grounded in the involvement of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), could well provide an important framework for identifying problems and possible solutions and mobilizing assistance where needed.

These committees deal with countries from all regions and all levels of development, and provide an excellent framework for discussing hunger and malnutrition problems with countries that do not receive development assistance, and whose people consequently do not benefit from the concern and attention of development assistance organizations. The committees base their methods of work on dialogue and encouragement to progress whenever possible, and over time real and substantial results in policy evolution and actual practice can be and are achieved.

Sadly, certain situations of violations of human rights are of such a serious nature that the international community through the United Nations has set up specific investigation mechanisms to carry out inquiries and report to the General Assembly or the Commission on Human Rights. As necessary these reports deal with questions of hunger and malnutrition. In the late 1970s reports on the situation in Chile underlined the impact of government policies on nutritional standards, and today many of the reports presented to the Assembly and Commission contain such information, notably those on the situation in the former Yugoslavia. In these situations we must seek more direct and immediate means to come to the aid of those whose right to adequate food is being deliberately violated.

Promoting and protecting the right to food as a human right forms part of the United Nations overall effort to protect all human rights, economic, social, and cultural as well as civil and political, and dealing with extreme poverty and exclusion is part of that effort All are inter-related The background studies for this conference show that participation, NGOs, and the role of women are important elements in a strategy to combat hunger Studies by the Centre for Human Rights show, for example, that an impartial legal system is crucial to economic development Here we can refer to programs designed to train paralegals for rural areas, whose responsibilities are to help small farmers, peasants, and shop owners defend their property, produce, and investments. This has a measurable effect on economic development.

Few, if any, United Nations activities do not contribute to the Charter's human rights objectives. Furthermore, respect for human rights has much to contribute to attaining the objectives of the United Nations in its other activities. Isolated action in one domain, as we have seen from our failures and successes, is not viable over the long term.

Acting together for common goals is the fundamented message of the World Conference on Human Rights that last June, with the support of more than 170 governments, adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. This Declaration and Programme of Action called for United Nations bodies, organs, and specialized agencies as well as regional organizations and international and regional finance and development institutions to work together for the promotion and protection of human rights. It called for specific action against discrimination; on behalf of minorities, indigenous people, and migrant workers for the equal status and human rights of women; and for the rights of children and such vulnerable groups as the extremely poor and socially excluded.

At Vienna, the participants emphasized strengthening the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights and seeking new and additional ways to promote those rights. Here we must stress the search for dialogue, the identification of problems, and the mobilization of assistance where needed over confrontation and condemnation, while remembering that respect for such classic rights as the rule of law and freedom of association are essential for long-term economic progress.

I would like to make a number of suggestions for strengthening the understanding and cooperation between human rights bodies and organizations that deal directly with hunger and malnutrition The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child could both increase their roles in fighting hunger. They need to know more about the complex hunger equation, and assistance and development institutions could learn more about human rights standards. I would encourage the organization of a meeting between the chairs of those two committees and perhaps one or two other committee members specifically interested in the subject and development and assistance experts from relevant institutions, perhaps with the participation of selected NGOs, to study the committees' contributions to antihunger strategy.

I also propose that such institutions and experts be more closely involved with the committees' consideration of reports, both before they are debated, for example, by providing comments or needed data, and afterward in the design and implementation of assistance projects.

I also believe that the secretariats involved have much to learn from each other I would welcome the secondment of selected staff from financial and development institutions to the Centre for Human Rights to share their knowledge and become acquainted with the human rights system Similarly, I would welcome the opportunity of sending staff from the Centre to such institutions to learn and to provide information, and eventually training, on human rights.

Reinforcing policy commitments to eliminate hunger will require the support of the NGO community and, in accordance with the call of the Vienna Declaration to associate both development and human rights NGOs more closely with our work, we could envisage a joint meeting with grassroots NGOs active in human rights and in development to explore concepts and action.

The Centre for Human Rights administers a program of advisory services and technical assistance in the field of human rights that helps governments to establish and strengthen democratic institutions and the structures of human rights and to train and educate those involved in the protection of human rights on a national level and in public information and awareness building Many of the programs' specific activities could help address the problems underlying hunger and malnutrition. We would welcome the possibility of discussing our country programs with experts from finance and development institutions to identify areas in which the Centre might help. Conversely, the Centre's expertise could help assistance, finance, and development organizations to identify areas in their programs where strengthening human rights would increase their chances of success.

The background papers of this conference clearly demonstrate the intimate connection between hunger, poverty, and exclusion and show the main areas in which respect for human rights has an important role to play in corrective actions. Should we not look at these together? A well-prepared consultation on the role of development assistance and respect for human rights in combating poverty and exclusion that would bring together experts from all fields might be useful One result could be to identify types of human rights assistance that could directly help to solve those problems.

Close cooperation with the Centre for Human Rights, and in particular its expert bodies, is crucial to ensure that on human rights matters the.

United Nations maintains a consistent and coherent position. Patient efforts over the years have enabled the United Nations to adopt and interpret a broad range of standards in the field of human rights. These are the standards states have accepted and to which they are held accountable. It would serve no purpose and would be extremely count productive for some organizations to develop their own standards and for states to be faced with different criteria depending on which organization they are dealing with I give prime importance to working closely with all organizations and institutions to enable the United Nations to speak on human rights with one voice.

The challenges to us all to eliminate hunger and malnutrition are serious and difficult, and success will depend on our combined efforts I wish to take this opportunity to pledge the full support of the United Nations human rights program to that objective.

Floor discussion

A number of participants commented from the floor; then the speakers responded

Participant's Comment

First floor participant I work for the National Wildlife Federation, which is not a church-based organization. However, we have our own version of an ethic, and it concerns what happens to land, natural resources, and people, especially future generations. In terms of sustainability it helps to think in terms of a triangle that covers economic viability, ecological viability, and social viability. Within social viability we include all the issues concerned with democracy, public participation, and help to poor people, of which the most extreme and the most painful to deal with is the question of hungry people We do not neglect the social aspect because we have the word "wildlife" in our name.

I want to mention the business as-usual way in which decisions have been made for many years that violates this triangle of what constitutes viable development. The predominant part of the triangle has been the economic viability part, making profits, making a project look like it pays in some traditional way. From out point of view, no development can be sustainable over the long run if all three parts of the triangle do not have an equal value.

So we have a way of thinking that applies to all development problems, in the most extreme corner of which is hunger Take an important actor like the Bank, which has to decide how to measure project quality and through that process ends up emphasizing one of the three corners of the triangle over the others, whether meaning to or not So for many years we have had very well-meaning people making decisions about whether projects have failed or succeeded based on whether the money was lent on time; whether the project stayed on schedule, as opposed to whether people were actually helped; whether their quality of life improved; whether hungry people had obtained immediate help, or whether the project had continued to long-range preservation of the planet.

That is the struggle that I see the Bank going through now: trying to redefine project quality, trying to understand how to equalize the three corners of this triangle However, unless that happens, appropriate development decisions can-not be made, and all the people who are trying to do good are being pushed to do something that is profoundly wrong This lopsided measure of success is a failure of long-run efficiency. You end up degrading productive resources and losing people's productive capacity Getting the three corners of the triangle back into balance is obviously a profoundly ethical question.

Speaker's Response

Ismail Serageldin: You will be happy to know that we are coreligionists In the new Finance & Development that is coming out in December, I wrote a lead article with that same equilateral triangle, which I also presented at the First International Conference on Environmentally Sustainable Development, which is followed by pieces written by leading people in the Bank. So we are making progress.

Participants' Comments

Second floor participant: one should have to go hungry because of his or her religious or political affiliations When one reduces it to the roots level, most of the people who are hungry are not the ones making the political decisions. Holding them to the decisions of those above them seems unethical.

Third floor participant: I was thinking of an article yesterday by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn on the open page of the New York Times which was an excerpt from a speech he gave recently about his observations on contemporary Russia. In the days of central planning and gulags he was one of those who brought communist society to the attention of the world and presented the moral arguments against communism. He has the same fears about what he is seeing of the new market mentality currently being introduced in Russia, and argued that the real needs of the latter part of the twentieth century were to resolve the problems of hunger and poverty, of planetary survival, and of war and peace, and that this new system was not an alternative that would bring this about It made me think of Karl Polanyi, who around 1945 wrote an essay called Our Obsolete Market Mentality, which was a moral critique of market society and of capitalism One of the issues we must seriously consider is that of the ethical nature of a market economy. Is this up for discussion?

Speaker's Response

Ismail Serageldin: I do not think that anybody today advocates the unfettered free market approach of throwing the baby out with the bath water. What we are talking about is that the ruthless efficiency of the market as an allocative mechanism has got to be tempered by a nurturing and caring state Justice that is not tempered by mercy is not justice It becomes legalism.

I think these are the kinds of things that we do not have to spend too much time on because we all pretty much agree. Where I am not so sure that we can easily make a case is in the military area. I frequently talk about the level of military expenditures around the world For the cost of a single tank we could save 7 million children from child hood disease by providing vaccinations If we are going to discuss political realities, how about a 10 percent reduction across the board in military expenditures?

Participants' Comments

Fourth floor participant I am happy to see that Ismail is introducing this ethical dimension, and I would like to suggest that next tune he writes an article with the triangle he mentioned, he puts a circle inside * with "ethics" dearly spelled out so that everybody starts talking about this issue.

I would like to ask a question about the water problem. Land is no good without water, and we need land and water to produce food Much of the world is not endowed with enough water. The water that evaporates elsewhere because it is hot falls upon us, and we can live well and have a lot of water and a lot of food.

Now here in the United States we have our west, which does not have water, and we feel it absolutely natural and normal that we pay taxes and subsidies so that we can all share the same quality of life What about people elsewhere in the world? We are talking about equity and ethics, but what does that mean in terms of solidarity and sharing? Should we be thinking about managing water and land globally? What kind of institutions should we envisage? We have to change our vision completely.

Fifth floor participant I am struck by the contrast between the moral imperatives imposed on individuals' consciences, and the moral imperative of political action, which has to do with moral obligations or the ethics of social, political action Eradicating global hunger is certainly a social, and therefore a political, problem. However, there is a gap between the individual and the social level. I know there is a whole literature on the topic, but I submit that we have a problem, because we have jumped too quickly from individual obligations to social action.

My concern has to do with the ethics of our obligation to future generations. There is enough food today, and as defined by the first speakers, the ethical problem is the contrast of the hungry living among plenty. But the moral obligations of past generations have led to our having plenty, yet we are not sure that there will be plenty in the future unless we take action. I submit that this is a moral imperative, taking the necessary action so that there will also be plenty in the future.

Sixth floor participant Ethiopia is much affected by hunger. I want an immediate answer; I do not care who is in power. What I want is that people get the basic necessities, but that has not occurred in my country or in most of the countries affected by drought or famine. The discussion here is at such a high level for me because I come from an area where the situation is very basic We have to come down to basics I want to see some action, such as the promotion of coping mechanism in areas where people have some resources and of staple food production.

Seventh floor participant Much of our discussion is about how we can get systems to restructure themselves so that we can eventually get at the problem of hunger, or how we can get the triangle to reshape itself, or how we can deal with the long-run problems. Because this is an ethical question, what is so wrong with the president of the Bank, and maybe the president of this country and the leaders of a lot of other countries, making a commitment that one of the first things we are going to try to do is to make sure that everybody is adequately fed?

The tragedy of 1974 is that a nucleus of important people did not make the decision to do what they said they were going to do There is plenty of evidence that had we tried to feed all the people, they would have gone to school, they would have reamed what kind of medicine they needed, and they would have sorted out their development problems.

My question is, why can we not, as an ethical point, take the position that in everything we try to do, we will try to make sure that even if we overrun some systems, everyone has enough to eat?

Speakers' Responses

Jorge Mejia: I have been asking myself what an institution like the Roman Catholic Church does against hunger We talk a lot, and this is one of the ways in which the Catholic Church communicates with people and knocks at the door of conscience, be it individual or social We are now preparing a paper on hunger, which will be distributed soon. We are also preparing a paper on the transfer of funds. When you talked about the price of tanks, I thought about this paper. The paper is not directly about where resources go, but it is a dear statement on the ethics of the bansfer of armaments and weapons, particularly of conventional weapons.

Perhaps this discussion on the ethics of hunger should have taken place after the conference Then the many problems that have emmerged here, and many others that have not emerged here but will be equally urgent, would have come out and touched our consciences Then perhaps we could meet again sometime and try to spell out exactly how deep the ethical dimension of this problem of hunger really is.

David Beckmann It seems to me that what really motivates individuals so that eventually they change institutions and structures is generally not guilt, shame, outrage, or anger These feeling are present and we are guilty. We should be ashamed. We should be outraged But I am convinced that what motivates most of us most powerfully is a sense of shalom, a sense of Islam, a love of nature, a joy in life, or a sense of conviviality. I can say that the World Bank ought to involve poor people in all its decisions But Bread for the World does not. Interaction does not The National Wildlife Federation does not. World Vision does not. It is tough to involve poor people in all our decisions.

So when we look at our own life styles, our own institutional structures, we have all got lots of things to feel discouraged about, and I think it is this sense of God letting the sun shine on the good and evil alike that gives me the capacity to wake up in the morning and say, okay, the sun is shining on me I did not do what I was supposed to do yesterday, but I will try again I just think that this sense, which motivates us to share our abundance with hungry people, is really crucial. And that is the ethos that is most likely to make us succeed in getting rid of hunfer.

Closing statement

Ismail Serageldin

We could spend all evening discussing this subject, and there are some here who could speak very eloquently, but who did not tonight Muhammad Yunus will have an occasion to address us in the plenary tomorrow. I see Alan Berg sitting in the back I have sometimes called him the conscience of the Bank on hunger issues, and he has always been quiet, but the quiet of the wise I think He did not need to have anyone hold his feet to the fire to result in his playing such a key role in which the World Bank's funding of nutrition went from US$20 million or US$30 million a year five or six years ago to some US$680 million this last fiscal year. It was his strong personal commitment and motivation that led him to do so He is silent here, but I receive electronic mail messages from him every night and they keep me going. There are many others here who are equally committed.

I would like to end on two notes First, Ido not feel that the Bank is somehow inherently insensitive to global hunger or incapable of addressing it. My career in the Bank speaks to the fact that did not suffer too much from my commitment to end poverty and hunger I cite a complaint about the Bank that came from a source whom I think most people in this room, just by the self selection of comma to this panel, would consider a compliment This person was one of the real extreme right-wing ideologues who believe that the only business at the Bank should be the promotion of the private sector When asked what he thought about the appointment of Lewis Preston to head the World Bank, that person said, "You know, this World Bank is a strange place It doesn't matter where the president comes from McNamara came from Defense Tom Clausen came from the commercial sector Barber Conable came from Congress Now Lew Preston is coming from Wall Street. No matter where they come from, within two weeks of landing there,, they start talking about poverty.”

I think this quote speaks well of the institution I am glad that president after president of the Bank has reaffirmed this institution's goal.

Second, I think that what we all are seeking in this conference and the spirit that we must take from tonight and the next two days is perhaps best summed up in the famous words of Robert Kennedy: '´There are those who look at the world as it is and ask 'why?' while others look at the world as it could be and ask 'why not?"' We should all be looking at the world as it could be and asking why not.