November 19, 2004

Fighting Hunger With Irish Leader

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Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland (1990-1997) spoke in front of a full Call Auditorium last night in a lecture entitled “Social Justice, Ethics and Hunger: What are the Key Messages?” Her lecture was part of the H.E. Babcock workshop on Ethics, Globalization and Hunger, which is taking place this week at Cornell.

In his opening remarks before Robinson’s keynote address, Per Pinstrup-Andersen, nutritional sciences, the current H.E. Babcock Professor and monitor of the ongoing workshop this week, noted, “One-sixth of the world’s population is affected by poverty.” According to Andersen, the workshop is directed at the “alleviation of hunger in developing countries.”

President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 was also in attendance and introduced Robinson. “She has gained worldwide recognition for social justice and human rights,” Lehman said. “She left office with a 93 percent approval rating and could have easily served another seven years,” he added.

With her strong emphasis on human rights, Robinson, instead of serving another term as president of Ireland, chose to accept the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, where she served from 1997 to 2002. Throughout her speech, Robinson urged the workshop and the audience to “reinforce the case of including a human rights perspective in curing world hunger.” Through the inclusion of human rights, she said she hopes to associate a legal accountability on behalf of developed countries and to push those governments to take action.

“The statistics are mind numbing,” Robinson said. “Every seven seconds a child under the age of ten dies directly or indirectly from hunger.”

She also noted that 840 million people in the world are suffering from hunger, and a total of two billion people are suffering from malnutrition.

With regard to the AIDS/HIV epidemic, Robinson noted the importance of developing a relationship between food security and the virus. On a trip to Somalia during her presidency, Robinson said that she was “lectured severely for having too simplistic an approach to the issue of access to drugs and treatment.” The lecturer, whom she later identified as her own son, emphasized that the shift in attention should be toward bettering nutrition.

“There are too many voices calling for those who are HIV-positive to have antiretroviral drugs,” she quoted her son as saying. “Good nutrition is far more relevant to prolonging life and to the quality of that life,” he added.

During the Rome World Food Summit in June 2002, of which Robinson was in attendance, it was decided that it was the governments’ responsibility to “ensure that all people within their jurisdiction have access to food and that access is not conditional on one’s relative wealth, social status or nationality,” Robinson said.

Robinson also addressed the issue of the lack of progression to reach the goal set in 1996 by the World Food Summit. This goal, again stated in the U.N. Millennium Declaration in 2000, pledged to halve the number of hungry in the world by the year 2015.

In the question and answer session that followed her speech, monitored by Lehman, the actions of the Bush administration were raised in regard to their initiative in taking on the issues of world hunger. While noting the twelve billion U.S. dollars that have been contributed to the effort, she said that in order to make progress, an additional 50-60 billion dollars would be necessary.

In her closing remarks, Robinson reiterated her insistence on the participation of national governments to take a more active role in curing world hunger by the preservation of the basic rights of its citizens. She commended the workshop here at Cornell saying that it was through “grass roots organizations” such as this one that have the ability to shape future legislation.

As a final note, Robinson urged the audience to “look beyond immediate responsibilities to our families, communities and nations to recognize collective responsibilities to our fellow women and men wherever they may be.”

Archived article by Emily Gordon
Sun Staff Writer