G8 pressed to keep up fight on hunger

Anti-poverty campaigners are urging leaders of rich nations to commit at a weekend summit to feeding the world's poor, warning that hunger is taking a devastating toll away from the headlines.

By all accounts, the crisis in the eurozone will top the agenda as leaders of the Group of Eight major industrialized economies meet Friday and Saturday for a summit at the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington.

But the talks come as the G8's food commitments run out. The wealthy nations pledged in L'Aquila, Italy, at their annual summit in 2009 to provide $20 billion to fight hunger in the developing world over three years.

The Italy summit marked President Barack Obama's first G8 and he quickly embraced food security as one of his signature foreign policy issues, working to support farmers in Africa and elsewhere to improve agriculture.

But tens of thousands of people are estimated to have died last year due to drought in lawless Somalia and neighboring countries. In a new crisis, more than 16 million people are said to be short on food in West Africa's Sahel.

Advocacy groups believed that the G8 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- has largely met promises from L'Aquila. But campaigners called for a sustained commitment post-2012 -- this time focusing not on money but on concrete goals on hunger.

Ben Leo, global policy director of One, a campaign group co-founded by Bono, hoped the G8 would set a target of lifting 50 million people out of poverty by supporting national plans and preventing stunted growth of 15 million children.

Michael Klosson, vice president for policy and humanitarian response at Save The Children, said that one quarter of the world's children suffer permanent damage from malnutrition at the start of their lives.

"If no significant steps are taken, then almost a half billion children will grow up stunted physically and mentally over the next 15 years. That's a huge statistic and it's something that I think G8 leaders ought to have in mind when they gather at Camp David," Klosson told a news conference.

Klosson said that efforts to address hunger made economic sense, pointing to estimates that malnutrition accounts for $20-30 billion in losses each year.

Christian relief groups such as World Vision in a joint letter to Obama urged him to push through "bold, achievable targets" at the G8 summit, saying that the world's hungry "don't need campaign promises, they need greater action."

Obama administration officials have said that G8 leaders will look at the global economic turmoil but also devote a session to food security, with the leaders of Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania invited to take part.

Obama will deliver an address Friday at a symposium in Washington of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs where he is expected to announce a new food security "alliance" that includes the private sector and other players on the issue.

Times have changed since the 2005 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland where G8 leaders, meeting before the global economic tumult, pledged to boost aid by more than $25 billion and cancel debt to the poorest nations.

"The era of Gleneagles -- of large-scale, massive aid pledges -- is over," said Sam Worthington, the head of InterAction, an alliance of US-based relief and development groups.

But he said that the G8 could still make a "significant difference" by bringing together governments and civil society to take action on hunger.

Camp David will mark the G8 debut of three leaders -- French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda -- who are all focused deeply on domestic challenges.

Worthington said it was up to Obama to ensure the emphasis on food security as European leaders are mired in their woes.

"We are seeing, to some extent, a shift in some of the development leadership from Europe to the United States," he said.

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