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The right to food


© UNICEF Malaysia/2007/Nadchatram
Five year old Jamal who belongs to an "Orang Asli" community living in the fringes of Malaysia's rainforest enjoys a morning snack at his Government-run pre-school.

KUALA LUMPUR, 4 October 2007 – Although the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948  first recognised the right to food as a human right, severe food insecurity continues to affect at least one-seventh of the world’s human population, 146 million of whom are children under five living in developing countries.

Hunger is not just any other social problem; it is one of the most fundamental threats to human existence. Together with chronic under-nutrition, hunger contributes to over half of all deaths from infectious diseases among children under five years of age.

Challenges of hunger and poverty, health, population and the environment are literally a matter of life and death for millions. Hunger endangers life, health, and cognitive functioning. People die from hunger. Hunger, in short, is both a threshold issue for human existence and a threshold moral issue for society itself. Hunger is also the primary threat to security and peace for all of us, now and in the future.

The large proportion of suffering and deaths of children, women and men due to hunger and malnutrition and under-nourishment is unnecessary.  UNICEF believes that the solutions to this problem are available. We know what we have to do here.

The Right to Food – this year’s theme for World Food Day, observed annually on 16 October – underlines the right of every person to have regular access to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food for an active, healthy life. It is the right to feed oneself in dignity, rather than the right to be fed. With more than 850 million people still deprived of enough food, the Right to Food is not just economically, morally and politically imperative - it is also a legal obligation.

The Rights to Food Guidelines were developed at the World Food Summit in 2002 to realise the inherent right of every child, woman and man to adequate food. In 2004, after intensive negotiations, the Guidelines were adopted unanimously by members of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

In support of governments’ obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the Right to Food, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP) shaped the “Ending Child Hunger and Under-Nutrition Initiative” in 2006, based on three major objectives:

  • To stimulate, enable and assist governments to mainstream the elimination of child hunger and under-nutrition within national policies and programs based on monitoring and accountability for results;
  • To provide adequate policy support and expert policy guidance, supported by clear, consistent and well-informed advocacy; and,
  • To mobilise sufficient additional resources in support of national efforts, and to ensure that these resources are used in a cost-effective, consistent and coordinated manner towards the elimination of hunger and under-nutrition among children and pregnant women.

Achieving these objectives requires building on and expanding partnerships that can help support practical actions at the national, district and community levels. Civil society, NGOs, technical institutions, the private sector and the media must join governments to meet Millennium Development Goal 1, target 2, which aims to reduce the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and under-nutrition by 2015.

It must be our collective goal and responsibility to ensure that every child, woman and man, wherever they live on this planet, realise their right to food. A world where the right to food is achieved for everyone is a world where people at every level are active participants in society.

The right to food cannot just be the benefit of some. It must be the right of all.



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