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Getting the green light to finish the fight against hunger

Yesterday, at the Irish Embassy, London, a number of significant voices from the international development community gathered to discuss the root causes and potential solutions of global hunger. There was acknowledgement of the vast humanitarian needs that remain around the world however, the event concluded with hope, optimism and energy on finishing the fight against global hunger once and for all.

The evening kicked off with a speech by Rose Caldwell, Concern UK’s Executive Director, who recognised Concern’s growth and achievements: “Last year Concern Worldwide helped 27 million people living in extreme poverty in the world’s poorest countries.  Over the last 50 years, our donors and supporters, both members of the public, and also the Irish and British governments, have shown incredible generosity in helping others facing war, famine and disaster.  Together we have helped millions of people”.  She noted the recent announcement from the UN that 13 million people in Yemen are at risk of starving to death, which gave the theme of the evening – the vicious cycle of conflict and hunger –a profound sense of urgency.

Ciaran Cannon, Irish Minister for Diaspora and International Development explained how Ireland’s history and experience of famine and conflict inspires Ireland’s efforts to be on the frontline in the fight against hunger:

“We understand ‘crop diversification’, and why that’s a challenge on ever smaller plots of land. We get the need for security of tenure, the influence of policy, and the importance of political will. And when disaster strikes, we get the need for a coordinated and adequate response.”  

He firmly stated that “we must do more to reverse the worrying trends in the rise of violent conflict, civilian deaths and forced displacement”, and called for collaboration in our response to global hunger and humanitarian issues.

Sir Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, gave a keynote speech addressing the root causes of hunger, noting gender inequality, unemployment, climate shocks and resource degradation, but highlighting conflict as the number one driver of hunger.

Sir Mark expressed hope in our ability to work together to “eradicate famine from the human condition within our lifetimes” and to reach the goal of zero hunger.

But this was followed with the necessary actions that the international development community – and the world – must take in order for it to happen. The need for early warning and early action to impending crises, the building of community resilience and the financing of effective systems were made by Sir Mark. But it was the‘silencing of the guns’ that was the most prominent of his pleas. We must end conflict to end hunger.

The panel discussion

This was followed by a ‘free and frank’ discussion with a fantastic panel consisting of Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary for the Department of International Development, Sara Pantuliano, Managing Director of Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Caitriona Dowd, Humanitarian Policy Advisor, and Abraham Bongassie Wanta, Sudan Country Director for Concern Worldwide, and chaired  by Fergal Keane (BBC).

Fergal stimulated a lively dialogue, with his challenging questions keeping the audience on the edge of their seats with their ears pricked and pens poised in anticipation. Talk of public support for aid, conflict aversion tactics and gender inequality were just a handful the major topics explored.

And yet one theme remained constant: the vicious cycle of conflict and hunger.

When exploring the root causes and potential solutions to global hunger, it is clear that there is no escaping the presence of conflict. Differences in opinions on the other various topics such as the aid budget were voiced, and yet everyone was in agreement that the fundamental issue when tackling global hunger is the unrelenting violence destroying the lives of millions of people worldwide. To do this, we must work together to increase investment in peacebuilding, ensure international rules governing war and protecting humanitarian support are followed, and build the public and political will necessary to drive a greater focus on ending and preventing conflict.

As pointed out by Rose in her closing speech, the importance of our values is at the heart of this fight, and this is something that manifested itself throughout the evening. While there may be differences to be challenged, as they were in the panel discussions, really, our core values and goals are the same. We are all here to end global hunger. And to do this, as it was agreed at our event last night by some of the most significant voices in the international development community, we must first end conflict. 

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