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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Food Official Defends Summit

ROME -- The UN's food agency chief defended this week's World Food Summit on Tuesday as its blueprint to slash starvation came under attack from critics who say it will do little to dent hunger.

Jacques Diouf, director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said in an eve-of-summit interview that a target to feed more than 400 million more people within 20 years was both "reasonable and achievable."

He said the fact that world leaders, around 100 of whom he expects in Rome for the summit, had unanimously endorsed the plan for the meeting meant they had the will to achieve its aims.

"We think we have a great chance of success provided ... that the commitments made here are adhered to," Diouf said.

The five-day gathering, the first highest-level meeting on hunger, will open on Wednesday with speeches from Pope John Paul, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Diouf and Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro.

It will seek no hard cash and will not directly address humanitarian crises such as the catastrophe in eastern Zaire, where more than one million people are at risk from fighting. Zaire is likely to figure on the margins of the summit, which many African heads of state will attend, and Boutros-Ghali said the event was bound to draw attention to the crisis.

"The summit tomorrow will help us to maintain mobilization of public opinion on this tragic situation," Boutros-Ghali told a news conference in Rome.

Two key documents for the summit, a Declaration on World Food Security and a Plan of Action, have been agreed in advance for leaders to endorse at the outset of the gathering. Though the texts have no legal force, they will commit governments to a drive to halve the 840 million people in the world who suffer chronic hunger or malnutrition by 2015.

A ministerial World Food Conference in 1974 had pledged to eradicate hunger within a decade.

"We have set targets that are more reasonable and more achievable," than in 1974, Diouf, who is from Senegal, said.

"We are not saying that there will be no person hungry ... but we are saying that if we could halve the number of the hungry people we would have already made progress."

Nongovernmental organizations in Rome for their own meeting have blasted the documents as "wishful thinking" and questioned whether governments will turn the words into action.

The NGO forum Tuesday drafted its own statement for the summit, criticizing big-business farming and accusing rich countries of contributing to poverty and lack of self-reliance in the Third World by dumping cheap food on their markets.