Eva Clayton, FAO Assistant Director-General and Special Advisor on World Food Summit Follow-up, talks about the International Alliance against Hunger (IAAH) and its role in sustaining momentum towards achieving the Summit and UN Millennium Development Goals.
What is the International Alliance against Hunger?
In June 2002, during the World Food Summit: five years later, world leaders reviewed progress made towards meeting the 1996 World Food Summit goal of halving the number of the world's hungry by 2015, in so doing their final declaration called for the creation of an International Alliance against Hunger to join forces in efforts to eradicate hunger. Launched on World Food Day, 15 October 2003, the IAAH works to generate political will and concrete actions through partnerships between intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and national alliances.
Who are the members of the IAAH?
The IAAH is a voluntary association of international organizations, national alliances against hunger, civil society organizations, social and religious organizations and the private sector.
Can anybody join?
The International Alliance is made up of the Rome-based UN food organizations, FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), and representatives of other intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. Individuals can't directly join the IAAH, though they can work with national alliances against hunger. In less than two years, 36 countries have established national alliances, some of them already very active like those in Brazil, Burkina Faso, France, India and the United States.
But how does the International Alliance work?
Most of our emphasis is on getting the national alliances started, but what is great to see is that countries are now starting to partner with each other, benefiting from each others' experiences. For example, the national alliance in Brazil is working with interested groups in Haiti to set up a national alliance there.
The theory sounds good but doesn't this risk becoming just a talk shop?
That might be the risk, but it hasn't been the case so far. If you go to our Web site (http://www.iaahp.net), you'll see just how many organizations have become members and the hunger pledges that we are beginning to receive. It is precisely this need to commit through making a pledge against hunger that I think has given substance to the theory and motivated groups to join national alliances and to work together in the International Alliance.
But isn't this what governments are trying to do anyway?
Yes, but often they do not have the resources, or insufficient resources are being channeled to the sectors that most need them. Governments need sustained support, which is what we are trying to provide by establishing the national alliances and the International Alliance, so that the dialogue within countries and among countries can be given a focus and maintain the needed momentum to achieve the World Food Summit and UN Millennium Development Goals of halving the number of hungry and poor people.
What can you say about the way you work?
We want to create some excitement and joy in what we do, and this was echoed in the words of Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who was recently invited by the IAAH for an informal discussion in Rome involving over 400 people. He said that basic human values of sharing and compassion are vital in order to effect lasting changes and lead to good feelings in and among people. Working to eradicate hunger and poverty need not be a burdensome and heavy obligation on society. Such work can be very rewarding both in human and economic terms.
By contrast, hungry people cannot work or produce to the best of their abilities. Children cannot learn in school, or often even attend school, and people become increasingly vulnerable to disease. On a nationwide scale this is a drain on a country's resources, on its economic potential, on political stability - to say nothing of the human tragedy. Yet, people everywhere have shown that they were willing to give to the poor during the Tsunami emergency, but because they mostly do not see hunger, they tend to ignore it, and yet it is a leading cause of death in our world.
What are the future directions for the IAAH?
We would like to see the national alliances become stronger, while internationally we also need a much stronger voice. For this reason, in the short term, some members of the IAAH are working to lobby the forthcoming G-8 summit in July and to increase awareness about hunger and poverty during the review of the Millenium Development Goals at the UN General Assembly in September this year, and in the run up to World Food Day in October.
Any inspirational stories you'd like to share of the Alliance in action?
Recently I listened to a very powerful intervention by a former youth representative from the Gambia, recalling his participation in the 1996 World Food Summit here at FAO, and also in the International Youth Forum associated with the Summit. He is now the Chairman of the National Alliance against Hunger in the Gambia, working on diverse projects from seed banks to HIV/AIDS assistance and helping inspire other young people by organizing Africa's first Youth Forum on Food Security.