One down, 191 to go

The prime minister of Kenya, Raila Odinga, was the first world leader to sign the new Charter to End Extreme Hunger, put together by Oxfam and an array of other humanitarian organizations.

With rocker and anti-hunger activist Bob Geldof at his side on September 24, Mr. Odinga declared that extreme hunger "is an attack on the conscience of mankind. We should never allow a child to starve to death."

As we all know, soaring food prices, drought and war have combined to place 13 million people across East Africa at risk of just that.

A massive humanitarian aid operation is saving tens of thousands of lives. Yet that operation ought to be unnecessary. Had governments taken concerted action nine months ago, when the warning signs were clear, the catastrophe could have been averted entirely.

The Charter identifies just what governments must do so that the tragedy in East Africa will be the very last famine the world will face.

Governments that sign the ground-breaking Charter commit to taking five key actions:

  • Respond right away. Early-warning systems now give plenty of warning of approaching food crises, yet they often go largely unheeded.
     
  • Invest in local food production. Most hungry people are food producers. Effective government programs to provide extension services, infrastructure and the like are crucial if they are to survive and prosper.
     
  • Protect the poorest and most vulnerable. Millions of people live on the edge of survival. Basic social safety nets can help them step back from the brink, yet sadly four out of five people in the world can only rely on family in a pinch.
     
  • Keep food affordable. Governments can and must protect against food price spikes that make eating unaffordable. Strategic and emergency food reserves are an essential tool.
     
  • Reduce armed conflict. Death by starvation won’t end without reducing the violence so often causes it. Governments must do much to resolve conflicts peacefully and ensure unfettered access for humanitarian relief in conflict situations.

Kenya stepped up first. Will Canada be next? Ask your leader to sign the Charter to End Extreme Hunger.

Mark Fried is Oxfam Canad'a policy coordinator.

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