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D'Escoto's remarks on World Food Day

NewsNotes, November-December 2008


In June, Maryknoll Fr. Miguel d’Escoto was elected president of the United Nations’ General Assembly; he began his one-year term in September. Following is the address he gave to the General Assembly on the occasion of World Food Day, celebrated this year on October 23.


Our gathering highlights our determination to take on the urgent challenge of a confluence of crises that require courageous, simultaneous and mutually reinforcing solutions. In marking World Food Day, we are dealing with the global crises of food security, climate change, energy and the global economic meltdown. We see them as inter-related problems that all require complex, long-term solutions.

Put another way, we are dealing with global problems that require sustained global governance. ... Each of these might fade from the headlines for a short period, but they all will be with us for the foreseeable future.

This meeting also highlights the fact that world leaders, not to mention the billions of people around the world who have entrusted the United Nations with their wellbeing, are turning to the United Nations for solutions. People have lost confidence in quick fixes, in narrowly based solutions, often orchestrated by the very people and institutions that have created the problems in the first place.

There is a fresh awakening to the need for global action. There is a renewed awareness that the UN, for all its shortcomings, remains our only truly representative forum that has the capacity, the expertise and the universality to address our problems with everyone’s interests in mind and at heart.

Yes, we must overcome our shortcomings for sure. It has taken decades of failed development policies to realize that we must put people first, that we must listen to the voices of people most affected by the poverty that is shocking in its global dimensions. The top-down approach has enabled lopsided development and outrageous abuses. It has led to the lamentable situation where we are today.

The shameful deprivation of billions of people is inexcusable, since it is a man-made problem caused by the dominant culture’s perverse logic of selfishness. It is clearly within our power to eradicate poverty, but we allow it to persist. The recent downturns, we are told by the ILO [International Labour Organization] and the FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization], are tipping tens of millions more into debilitating poverty.

The welcome end of the Cold War was not without collateral damage. The values of responsibility, of dignity, compassion and solidarity were suddenly considered obsolete, the values of the losers.

Today it is becoming clear that unfettered neo-liberal policies, and the culture of aggressive individualism that they engender, contradict the values and principles of all our religious and ethical-philosophical traditions. And they clash with our innate common sense.

People are calling for an end to this culture of indifference to the welfare of others. We are seeing how these economic policies have accelerated global warming and the plunder of natural resources. We see the madness of converting crops into fuel to sustain gluttonous energy appetites. To perpetuate this culture is to continue to betray our most sacred values and principles and lead us to the most terrible consequences for people and our fragile planet.

People are calling for an end to this culture of indifference to the welfare of others. We are seeing how these economic policies have accelerated global warming and the plunder of natural resources. We see the madness of converting crops into fuel to sustain gluttonous energy appetites. To perpetuate this culture is to continue to betray our most sacred values and principles and lead us to the most terrible consequences for people and our fragile planet.

Solutions proposed within the existing economic crisis are worsening the problems. In fact, the climatic crisis obeys the same logic as the food, energy and financial crises: the logic of policies based on short-term profits and speculation for maximum accumulation of wealth. The crises cannot be fixed one by one by technology alone. They require cross-cutting, global solutions.

Most of us here today are convinced that our problems do not have to provoke wider human tragedy. But we must overcome the moral mediocrity that keeps us from making the heroic sacrifices that the magnitude of the problems requires. We must address the underlying patterns of consumptions that are clearly unsustainable. Realism, if not our conscience, should tell us that all humanity is in the same boat and that we will all sink or sail together.

... [For] the complex problems we face, [w]e must seek solutions that transcend narrowly defined national interests and serve the good of all our peoples, nations as well as our fragile planet. We must draw on the resources and good will of all Member States to keep their promises in these trying times.

I reiterate my appeal to donor countries that, rather than reducing assistance to developing countries, they should triple the funds available to avoid prolonged human catastrophes. We are reminded today that donors have raised only $2.2 billion of the $22 billion pledged this year to promote global food security alone. Let us not wait until the poor and excluded take to the streets before we meet our responsibilities.

[T]he current crises should serve to convince us, once and for all, that profound and unavoidable changes must be made in the global economic system and in the values or, rather, anti-values driving it. ... Let us make sure that a strong UN be at the center of this transformation.

 

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