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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talk Feasts Prompt Hunger for Action

ROME -- The fashion for global summits, tackling everything from women's rights to starvation and the environment, may finally be at an end as the world stumbles towards the close of a bloody and chaotic century.

The UN-sponsored World Food Summit in Rome, which ended Sunday after five days, is expected to be the last top-level gathering of leaders for some time after a glut of meetings in the 1990s, from Rio de Janeiro to Beijing.

The declarations and action plans have been completed, at least on paper. The delegations have gone.

But uncomfortable questions remain about whether such meetings help focus the world's attention on real problems, or whether they are simply costly junkets that further damage the battered credibility of the United Nations.

The end of the Cold War has seen hopes rise that the international community, no longer riven by the East-West divide, could tackle such issues on a global scale.

In 1992, it was the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to address the environment, followed by summits on population, poverty, women's rights, urban problems and, finally, food in Rome.

Defenders of such meetings say they play a vital role in raising public consciousness and in getting governments to focus on problems that transcend narrow national interests -- even if results and real action are slow in coming.

While no one disputes the scale of the problems, critics say global summits are often little more than talking-shops that underline differences between nations, resulting in vague commitments that represent the lowest common denominator and are then not implemented by governments.

Rome, held in the shadow of the refugee crisis in eastern Zaire, was no exception. The final statement and "action plan" declaring that everyone has the right to access to food took more than two years to negotiate, while the debate was marked by sharp differences between rich and poor over how to achieve the aims.

Leaders from many of the world's rich nations did not even come to the Rome summit, reflecting a view in countries like the United States that such gatherings, each costing millions of dollars to stage, are wasteful.