A major new offensive in the war on hunger, in which Britain will commit hundreds of millions of pounds in aid, was announced yesterday. The initiative, which aims to save the lives of 1.7 million children and drive down rates of malnutrition by 2020, was unveiled at an international "nutrition summit" in London, which David Cameron, the Prime Minister, co-hosted with Brazil's Vice-President, Michel Temer, and the Children's Investment Fund Foundation president Jamie Cooper-Hohn.
Britain, along with more than 50 other countries, signed up to a pledge to improve the nutrition of half a billion pregnant women and young children by 2020, and reduce the number of under-fives suffering stunted growth by 20 million. Another target set was to save the lives of at least 1.7million children by increasing breastfeeding and through better treatment of malnutrition. Delegates pledged £2.7bn in aid between now and 2020.
At another event in London, others pointed out that far more needs to be done. An estimated 45,000 people attended a mass demonstration in Hyde Park as part of a campaign by more than 200 charities and religious groups called Enough Food For Everyone IF. The coalition of organisations is calling for three steps to end world hunger: a clampdown on tax avoidance in the developing world, helping those in poor countries have enough food, and better land rights for those in developing nations.
But speaking before the announcement by Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, of an extra £375m of core funding and £280m of matched funding to fight hunger, Mr Cameron showed he was aware that pledges alone would not save lives. Describing malnutrition and hunger as some of the "deepest problems the world faces" and a "massive issue for humanity", he warned: "It is not the commitments made today that will beat hunger – it's the way they are followed through tomorrow and the next day and the day after."
He called for a "transparency revolution" in the way that aid is carried out to ensure "real transparency about who is pledging what and making sure they deliver".
He added: "We will never beat hunger just by spending more money or getting developed nations and philanthropists to somehow 'do development' to the developing world. It has to be about doing things differently. It's all about helping those in developing countries take control of their own destiny."
Mr Cameron acknowledged the concerns over spending money on aid during a time of austerity, but said: "We accept the moral case for keeping our promises to the world's poorest even when we face challenges at home."
Giving aid also makes business sense, according to the Prime Minister. "There are countries in Africa whose GDP is 10 per cent lower than it would otherwise be because of the effect of stunting and malnutrition, so it is in their interests, it is in our interests, its in the whole world's interests that we deal promptly and decisively with this issue."
The statistics are stark. A billion people do not have enough to eat, and one in four children are stunted through chronic malnutrition – 165 million children are so malnourished by the age of two that their brains and bodies will never fully develop. About £6.17bn a year would be needed to save the lives of a million children under five who die of malnutrition annually, according to research in The Lancet last week.
Unless more countries come on board at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland next week the number of lives saved will be a fraction of the 21 million children expected to die from malnutrition between now and 2020.
Responding to the news, David Bull, executive director of Unicef and spokesman for the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, said: "Today has been a really important milestone, but we are not there yet. Pledges only make a difference when they get delivered. Children cannot wait." And José Graziano da Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, warned: "The cost of inaction is too high: malnutrition kills millions every year, and damages billions of lives."
In Hyde Park, there was no shortage of demand for action. Myleene Klass and Gethin Jones hosted the event, and celebrities including David Beckham and comedians Eddie Izzard and Miranda Hart sent video messages.
Almost three decades after Live Aid, the rally had echoes of an earlier era. But while African artists were conspicuously absent from Live Aid, the Beninoise singer Angélique Kidjo was one of three performers yesterday. She said that a new approach was needed to tackling hunger in the developing world. "The world has moved rapidly from the time of Live Aid to now," she said. "Africa is a continent of 53 countries and we can't treat it as one country. We have to hold our leaders accountable, not just here, but in Africa, so that we're not just giving money to governments to do what they want with. The population have lost trust and confidence [in charities]. "They see these offices and big cars and not much being done to change their lives. We have to find a way to make people feel part of it."
But Richard Dowden, executive director of the Royal African Society, and the author of a report into the damage that Western countries, including the UK, have done in Africa through aid, said: "We've seen it all before and it hasn't worked up until now. If this was a small thing of just 'give some money and this child will be fed' it would have been done by now. It can only be solved from within, not from outside, and until there's a political will to do this, it isn't going to happen."
Mr Dowden believes campaigns such as IF can show that many involved in the multibillion-pound aid industry are acting in their own interests. "A lot are very self-serving and interested in growing their brand," he said.
Microsoft's founder, Bill Gates, who set up the IF campaign with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, spoke at the rally. He called hunger "the great travesty of our time", adding: "Providing developing countries with the means to feed their people is a vital part of lifting these communities out of the cycle of hunger and poverty."
His presence at a rally to challenge tax avoidance by global companies prompted accusations of hypocrisy, since Microsoft is accused of using legal tax avoidance schemes. Tax Research UK calculated that what Microsoft saves in global taxes equates to 3.5 per cent of the world's annual aid budget.
Not everyone was convinced, however. Hamy Ismiel, 55, a surgeon from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, said: "It just doesn't work. You can campaign as much as you like but whatever happens, happens. I think the intentions are good but I don't know that it'll work."
Hyde Park vox pop
"I think it's good for people to talk about it but I'm fairly cynical about how much effect things like this really have. I'm not sure it actually results in people eating more."
Claire Harpur, 25; Lawyer from Wimbledon
"The sole purpose of events like this is publicity, so that people are talking about the issues and getting involved. But this doesn't seem to have had a lot of publicity, so I'm not sure it's worked."
Neha Pathak, 24; Doctor from south London
"I get the impression that there's enough food in the world to feed all of us. You've only got to look in this country, where obesity seems to be quite a major problem. I think it's very good that we do highlight hunger."
Chris Green, 72; Retired accountant from Worthing
"This is bringing diverse communities together to try to tackle one of the biggest problems our world faces. We choose our politicians and have a say in where the money goes."
Toyris Miah, 22; Charity fundraiser from Islington
"I came as I had nothing else to do. Sometimes it feels worthless because we're always giving money and it seems to go to governments rather than those who need it, and the governments spend it on something else."
Zoe Batchelor, 27; Events worker from Notting Hill
"I'm here because corruption and the state of Africa always get on my nerves. A lot of people say we're shouting and nobody is going to listen, but I think God has the power to change the minds of those in charge."
Yasmin Donaldson, 36; Social worker from Manchester
Campaigns for change
Live Aid Concert: 13 July 1985
Money raised: £150m for Ethiopian famine relief.
Live 8: 2 July 2005
Money raised: G8 leaders pledged to double aid to poor nations to $50bn by 2010. £3m raised from a text-in ticket competition.
Comic Relief: Annual event, founded 1985
Money raised: In total, £93,968,291.
Jubilee 2000: Drop the Debt Campaign
Money raised: G8 countries promised to write off $100bn of third world debt at the Cologne summit in July 1999.
Money raised: $3m from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in December 2004.
Christian Aid Week: Started in 1957, held every May
Money raised: 2007 week raised a record £14.6m.
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