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Chronic hunger represents the great ethical failure of the current global system - President Michael D Higgins

Irish President Michael D Higgins speaking at the opening of the Hunger • Nutrition • Climate Justice • 2013 conference in Dublin. Photo: eu2013.ie.President Michael D Higgins this week described the food crisis facing the world in strong language more often heard at conferences on torture or other human rights issues.

Speaking at a two-day conference on hunger, nutrition and climate justice in Dublin, President Higgins said urgent problems face us.

“Global hunger in the 21st century represents the grossest of human rights violations, and the greatest ethical challenge facing the global community.

“The source of this hunger is not a lack of food, but the moral affront of poverty, created and sustained by gross inequalities across the world - inequalities of power, economics and technology,” he said in an opening address to the 350 delegates from 60 countries.

The conference, part of Ireland’s EU presidency, was hosted by the Irish government and the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice (MRFCJ) in partnership with the World Food Programme.

President Higgins went on to talk about “the great ethical failure of the current global system” saying it is striking how rarely famine is caused by natural disaster or war.

He said: “Although many people might imagine that deaths from hunger generally occur in times of famine and conflict, the fact is that only about 10% of these deaths are the result of armed conflicts, natural catastrophes or exceptional climatic conditions.

“The other 90% are victims of long term, chronic lack of access to adequate food which represents, I repeat, the great ethical failure of the current global system.”

Former Irish President Mary Robinson beamed out from Irish newspapers following the conference opening; clearly delighted climate justice was being addressed through grassroots communication with those in power.

She said: “If we continue to address hunger, nutrition and climate change as separate issues we will not solve any one, much less all three of the challenges.

“People are hungry and under nourished for many reasons, including lack of access to resources, the absence of rights, conflict, natural disasters and now, climate change. Climate change is the last straw for many.”

An unusual feature of the “Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice Conference” was the focus on listening with panels and question and answer sessions taking place throughout.

This was designed by Mrs Robinson to allow grassroot voices to have an impact, to tell the stories of hunger and climate change which hide behind the pie-charts and diagrams.

She said people on the ground see the connection between climate change, nutrition, food security and human development very clearly.

“Our challenge is to understand these linkages in the same way that those experiencing them do, and to design responses that solve the closely related problems.

“That’s what this conference gives us an opportunity to do. I hope that through our discussions we can extract some wisdom and powerful messages to help shape the way we do development in the future,” she said.

Other conference partners include organising partner CGIAR Research Group for Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CGIAR/CCAFS) and supporters The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF).

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