With developing countries’ growth rates higher than those of the Eurozone and progress towards the Millennium Development Goals accelerating, there is one challenge which is crippling the economic and social potential of almost a billion people: hunger. It kills 2.3 million children each year and results in 165 million becoming stunted, meaning that their bodies and brains are permanently damaged, with negative impacts on earning potential of as much as 20%.
Last month, President Higgins spoke plainly and passionately about this scandal. At a conference co-hosted by the Irish Government, the Mary Robinson Foundation Climate Justice and others, he described the global food crisis as “the grossest of human rights violations, and the greatest ethical challenge facing the global community”. Those are strong words, important words, necessary words and as long as millions go hungry, they need repeating.
A sense of justice and a spirit of solidarity are deeply rooted in the Irish public. They are rooted too in all those who have supported Concern for over 40 years. They have driven us to respond effectively to emergencies; to work in the most difficult contexts with the most vulnerable people; to develop innovative, scalable solutions and to seek to influence policy and practice at national, European and international levels.
As the largest donor in the world, the EU has a particular role and responsibility. Over these past six months, Ireland – as President of the EU – has taken on the mantle and steered the EU towards a range of decisions endorsed by the meeting of Foreign and Development Ministers earlier this week. The European Commission had already committed to reduce by seven million the number of children who suffer from stunting by 2025 and the ‘council conclusions’ agreed on Tuesday – in the areas of Food & Nutrition Security and Resilience - hold promise of greater EU action in the fight against hunger. These decisions have been negotiated under Ireland’s watch and play to our strengths as a leader in the fight against hunger and as a donor which is recognised by the OECD as honourable, responsible and principled.
That being said, other announcements on Tuesday relating to EU investment in development aid are extremely concerning. The gap is widening between Europe’s stated commitment to reaching the international 0.7% aid target and the figures being reported - with a gap of more than EUR46 billion between current investment and the 2015 target.