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Battle against hunger

"More than 800 million people in the world are hungry! On an average 24,000 people die from hunger or hunger related causes every single day. Hunger kills more people than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Every five seconds a child dies from hunger or related diseases."

Please do not read and move on. Spare a minute to stay with the dismal statistics that ought to leave a huge impact on each one of us.

But amidst such gloom, what is encouraging is that it costs an average of merely 19 cents a day to feed a child in school. And this surely cannot be a daunting figure to contribute.

The World Food Program (WFP), the world's largest humanitarian organisation and the United Nations frontline agency in the fight against global hunger, launched the 'Fight Hunger -- Walk the World' event, a global walking event held every year in as many locations as possible. The event has one goal, that of eradicating child hunger by 2015.

Last year found people walking for this cause in as many as 266 locations in 91 countries, garnering $1.5million on a single day that served to feed about 70,000 children. This year 150 countries and 1 million people across the globe will be participating. The event in Dubai will have the involvement of over 10,000 people, making it the biggest walk event in the Middle East.

"The global walk was launched worldwide in 2003, with the specific purpose of using the event to fight hunger. The whole initiative originated in Asia, thanks to the WFP's corporate partner TNT, whose employees in Asia walked along the Great Wall of China to raise funds and awareness in support of WFP's School Feeding Programme. And by 2004, it had already won global recognition, purely because of the cause that it championed. It started with families and friends starting to walk to raise awareness about hunger in the world. "In Dubai, year 2005 found 1,200 people walking with us in the Creek Park," begins Zeina Habib, Public Affairs Officer for the GCC Region, World Food Program.

The walk proved to be an excellent awareness campaign about world hunger and child hunger in particular. And the event grew beyond the walk, with private organisations and government departments ready and willing to work towards eradicating world hunger throughout the year.

This year's walk will take place on May 21 and the 24-hour walk around the globe simply means that New Zealand will walk for the same cause at 10 am, followed by Hong Kong, China, India and the rest of the world nations. In the UAE, due to the soaring temperatures, the event is scheduled to begin at 6 pm at the Zabeel Park. The evening's activities will start with an acrobatic show themed around hunger, followed by the two-kilometre walk. The entrance fee is Dhs 25 and will entitle the participant to a T-shirt and a cap.

The proceeds raised from the event will go towards the World Food for Education programme that is geared towards motivating parents to send their children to school. The Food for Education is an umbrella term that encompasses several activities, all using food as an aid to promote basic education in areas that are categorised as 'food insecure.' For in poor countries, families cannot afford education, or will need their children to work and bring home some much-needed funds. And given the incentive of such a 'school feeding programme,' parents are happy to send their wards to school, for they are assured that their children will eat at least one proper meal in a day and this in addition to receiving basic education.

Over the past four decades, WFP is the world's largest provider of school meals and take home rations for poor children. WFP is also at the forefront of promoting the education of vulnerable children -- especially girls. Thanks to continued support from donors, the WFP has phased out of 28 countries having achieved success with their school feeding programmes in such regions. Despite a lot being done, the need is still great, the problem too large and food still unavailable to millions of children who are nothing more than a bag of bones with their skin hanging loosely on a barely concealed skeletal frame.

This year's 'Fight Hunger -- Walk the World' event will be under the patronage of Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The princess is also the Goodwill Ambassador for the World Food Program.

Gihan Ragab, co-ordinator for Walk the World Events in the Middle East adds: "Every person contacted so far the companies, government, schools, universities, NGOs, humanitarian organisations have been overwhelming in their support and have been proactive towards the event. This is because the cause -- eradication of child hunger is something fantastic. Every participant thinks of their own offspring or sibling in this state of starvation and realises that they must be a part of the cause. The Ministry of Education particularly has been very enthusiastic in wanting the students to know about such issues that plague the world, about other children who are suffering."

"The response from one and all is therefore amazing. It is as if they are keen to do something tangible for it is no longer acceptable that while we talk about Internet and speed of communication and technology in some parts of the world, we also have children struggling in other less fortunate parts, not able to satisfy their hunger -- and food is indeed a non-negotiable basic right," reiterates Ragab.

"Through this global day of action, Walk the World will raise awareness about the 300 million hungry children in this world. If we end child hunger by 2015, we will have effectively achieved the first Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of all hungry people by 2015," informs Habib.

Participants wanting to register and participate in the walk can get more information by calling 04-3681079 or logging on to www.fighthunger.org.

WFP's vision is a world in which everyone has access at all times to the nourishment they need for a full life. Organisations like the WFP that function with a clearly laid out road map, can set the direction right and gently nudge us along. It is up to each one of us to make that tangible difference.

World Food for Education facts

  • There are 300 million children in the world who are hungry.

  • There are more than 100 million children who do not attend school. Two-thirds of them are girls.

  • Research confirms that basic education is the most effective investment to improve economies and create literate, self-reliant and healthy societies. UN studies show that girls who go to school marry later, have fewer children and healthier families and more often send their own children to school.

  • When meals are provided at school, enrollment increases dramatically and performance improves.

  • WFP believes that providing a nutritious meal at school is a simple but concrete way to give poor children a chance to learn and thrive.

  • On a full stomach, a student's ability to concentrate and learn is dramatically improved.

  • As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

  • WFP is one of the world leaders in promoting girls' education through its take-home rations programme.

  • School Feeding activities fed over 15 million children in 69 countries in 2003.

  • For an average of 19 cents per day a child can be fed in school.

    Food for thought

  • In 2004 WFP fed 90 million people in 80 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people. 56 million were children and women.

  • In 2004 WFP delivered 6.5 million tonnes of basic commodities from the developed world to the most remote, insecure or isolated locations in a number of the least developed countries in the world.

  • WFP reaches out to hungry people who cannot help themselves -- victims of war and natural disasters, families affected by HIV/AIDS and orphans who have lost their parents to the pandemic, and school children in poor communities.

  • Since it was set-up in 1963, the Rome-based organisation has invested $27.8 billion and more than 43 million metric tones of food to combat hunger, promote economic and social development and provide relief assistance in emergencies throughout the world.





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