Religious, civic, UN and WTO officials meet in Geneva on global issues

Religious, civic, UN and WTO officials meet in Geneva on global issues

By Ecumenical News International
25 Nov 2008

Earthquakes, floods, rocketing food prices and bank failures are issues consuming the early part of the 21st century, and have led religious groups and civil society organizations, as well as high ranking United Nations and World Trade Organziation officials, to meet and discuss their impact in Geneva on 24 and 25 November 2008 - writes Peter Kenny.

The Geneva-based Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance said on 21 November that it was one of the organizers of the conference, which would focus on finding ways to conduct trade and investment that support the right of all people to food. The alliance is one of the increasing efforts by church or religious-backed organizations to engage with the inter-linked food, climate, trade and financial systems that are said to aid or stymie human development.

The EAA said it was an initiator of the Geneva conference, along with other civil society organizations from around the world. Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, and Pascal Lamy, the director general of the World Trade Organization, are expected to address the conference.

The conference aims to bring together different constituencies that work on agriculture, trade and human rights in order to deepen understanding of the impact of trade and investment on the right to food. The gathering will explore the impact of climate change, agrofuels and the recent food and financial crises.

It will also seek to develop new approaches to trade and investment that emphasise human rights. The conference will bring together farmer and peasant associations, food workers unions, environmentalists, urban settlers, consumer groups, development NGOs, human rights organizations, church groups, fair trade advocates, women's groups and indigenous peoples.

The EAA, an alliance of church and other faith-based groups, ended its general assembly in Rome on 19 November, during which it decided to focus on food in a new campaign, and to highlight the breadth of areas impacted by food.

"Food is one of the most essential basic requirements of life," said Hielke Wolters, director of the World Council of Churches programme on Justice, Diakonia and Responsibility for Creation at the Rome meeting. He noted, "The food crisis is physical, spiritual and economic and it draws the church to take action on all three levels."

At the same meeting meeting, Forbes Matonga, national director for Christian Care, Zimbabwe, said the involvement of the ecumenical group in addressing food will help churches in Zimbabwe, who are currently involved in food provision, "to raise it to the next level and ask questions about why do people not have enough food"?

Another development in the involvement of religious groups in climate will take place in Uppsala Sweden on 28 and 29 November 2008 when the Church of Sweden bringing together faiths such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Hinduism.

A Church of Sweden statement said they will debate climate change and its effects on the world's water and food security, how to achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals on fighting poverty and globally sustainable ecological, social and economic development.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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