UN 'Hunger Summit' starved for attention
The leaders of the world's wealthiest nations will be conspicuous by their absence as more than 60 heads of state and government gather in Rome this week for a UN summit on the plight of the planet's billion hungry.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is the only leader from the Group of Eight industrialised countries expected to attend the "Hunger Summit" from Monday through Wednesday.
Pope Benedict XVI will be among the inaugural speakers at meeting at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Also expected at the summit are Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Moamer Kadhafi of Libya, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe arrived Saturday with an entourage of some 60 people. His human rights record has seen him barred from travelling to the European Union, except for international gatherings, since 2002.
Humanitarian groups warned last week that the summit could be a "waste of time," calling for the commitment of new resources to fight hunger.
"It's a tragedy that the world leaders are not going to attend the summit," said Daniel Berman of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins sans Frontieres -- MSF).
A draft declaration already circulating ahead of the meeting is "just a rehash of old platitudes," said Francisco Sarmento, ActionAid's food rights coordinator.
"Rich countries are failing to show enough interest and urgency," said Oxfam spokesman Frederic Mousseau.
"At the G8 in Italy this summer they pledged 20 billion dollars (13.5 billion euros) for agriculture over three years, so they believe they have done enough. They haven't -- and the 20 billion dollars is a mirage," he said.
Even the Italian Catholic Church warned of a possible "flop" unless the produces concrete commitments.
The Italian bishops' newspaper Avvenire lamented that the draft final declaration makes no mention of the 44 billion dollars per year that FAO chief Jacques Diouf is seeking for agriculture in poor countries.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will prod world leaders to step up the fight against global warming as well as hunger during his stop at the summit.
"Given the close interrelationship between food security and climate change, the secretary-general will engage world leaders to advance both agendas together," a spokeswoman said last week.
To help create a sense of urgency ahead of the summit, Diouf went on a 24-hour fast on Saturday.
Diouf spent the night Friday at FAO headquarters, sleeping on a makeshift mattress of foam blocs, the UN agency said in a statement.
"I hope that through these gestures we will raise awareness, and build pressure from public opinion," Diouf said.
"Every six seconds a child dies of hunger," Diouf said last week. "This enormous tragedy is not only a moral outrage and an economic absurdity, but also it presents a serious threat to our collective peace and security."
Agricultural production must increase 70 percent if the world is to feed the population of nine billion by 2050, according to the FAO.
Non-governmental organisations plan a parallel forum with the slogan "People's Food Sovereignty Now!" to be attended by Diouf and Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno.
More than 400 delegates from around 70 countries will attend the forum.
On Sunday evening, the international anti-poverty agency ActionAid plans a "Stop Hunger!" vigil at Rome's Colosseum, which will be lit up for the occasion.