Nearly half the planet cannot afford healthy food, the United Nations secretary-general warned at a food summit Thursday that seeks to improve global food production and access.
“Food is life. But in countries, communities and households in every corner of the world, this essential need — this human right — is going unfulfilled,” Antonio Guterres told the virtual Food Systems Summit on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s annual gathering.
Guterres noted that 3 billion people cannot afford nutritious food.
“Every day, hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry. Children are starving,” he said.
While millions starve and famine is a reality in parts of Yemen and Ethiopia, nearly one-third of all food production is lost or wasted.
The summit, in the works for more than a year, aims to take a fresh look at every aspect of food production to make it more environmentally friendly, safe, nutritious and accessible. It is also part of advancing the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, among which “zero hunger” is a top priority.
Pandemic increases challenge
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made this challenge much greater,” Guterres said. “It has deepened inequalities, decimated economies [and] plunged millions into extreme poverty.”
The virus was also on the minds of the leaders who addressed the General Assembly Thursday — particularly the African leaders, who made up a large portion of the day’s speakers. Many appeared by video message because of the pandemic.
“It is an indictment on humanity that more than 82% of the world’s vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than 1% has gone to low-income countries,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a video address.
The African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 4% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.
“The hoarding and inequitable distribution with the resultant uneven vaccination patterns across the globe is not acceptable,” Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a prerecorded message. “Vaccine nationalism is self-defeating and contrary to the mantra that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe.’ Whether in the global North or South, rich or poor, old or young, all people of the world deserve access to vaccines.”
There was also concern about the trend toward coups in Africa. In the past year, military coups have taken place in Chad, Mali and Guinea. Sudan’s military said it put down an attempted coup there just this week. And in Tunisia, some argue that President Kais Saied essentially pulled off a coup, invoking emergency powers, firing the prime minister and suspending the parliament to consolidate his authority.
Angolan President João Gonçalves Lourenço said there has not been sufficient reaction from the international community to discourage these coups from happening.
“We consider it necessary that the international community act with resolve and does not simply issue statements of condemnation in order to force those actors to return power to the legitimately established institutions,” he told the gathering. “We cannot continue to allow recent examples, such as those of Guinea and others, to succeed in Africa and other continents.”
In the Middle East, Iraqi President Barham Salih expressed concern about terrorism in his country and the wider region.
“We cannot understate the danger posed by terrorism. If we become lax and distracted by regional conflicts, we will simply see the return of obscurantist forces that will threaten our people and our security,” he warned. “Cooperation and solidarity are our only choice in our fight against international terrorism and the groups that support it.”
Other speakers Thursday included Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
Meanwhile, the opportunities provided this week for intensive diplomacy helped ease a rare rift in U.S.-Franco relations.
French officials were outraged by a security pact made between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS) earlier this month. Under the arrangement, Australia will receive at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, to be built in Australia using American technology. The agreement came as Australia pulled out of an earlier deal for French submarines worth tens of billions of dollars.
A phone meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday and an in-person meeting Thursday between their top diplomats on the margins of the General Assembly in New York appear to have gone a long way to calming Paris and rebuilding confidence.
VOA’s Chris Hannas contributed to this report.