Walkers worldwide march against child hunger
ROME (AFP) - From Rome to Auckland to Nairobi, hundreds of thousands of people let their feet do the talking in the UN World Food Programme's (WFP) annual march against child hunger.
Walkers in more than 100 countries in 24 time zones across the world set off at 10:00 am local time in the "Fight Hunger: Walk the World" demonstration, aimed at raising funds for the WFP.
The first protesters set off in Auckland, capital of New Zealand, on the five-kilometre (three-mile) walk, which was followed by marchers in the capitals of Indonesia, Bangladesh and Liberia, and on the island of Samoa.
In Italy, where the WFP is based, around a dozen towns were taking part in the event, from Catania in Sicily to Turin in the north.
A rally in the Italian capital on Sunday morning drew thousands, most of them children and young people, members of sports organisations and WFP employees, the organisation's spokesman Vichi De Marchi told AFP.
Pope Benedict XVI hailed the initiative during Sunday prayers on St Peter's Square, and expressed the hope that "thanks to everyone's contributions we will be able to combat the plague of hunger that still afflicts humanity".
In central Moscow, the protest drew mostly teenagers wearing blue berets and t-shirts that read: "Join us: help feed hungry children in the world's schools", independent radio station Echo Moscow reported.
"This will prove that Russia, which not long ago was a recipient of international aid, supports efforts to help people dying of hunger around the world," said march organiser Dmitri Pisarev, quoted by the RIA-Novosti news agency.
Some 4,000 people including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres turned out for a 10-kilometre walk around Portugal's capital, Lisbon. Guterres said after the march it was "intolerable" that the WFP did not have sufficient funds to fight hunger.
In the Czech capital Prague, organizers said the march would raise money for food programs in Tanzania and Afghanistan. In the Central Asian country alone one out of four children die before reaching the age of five, Czech senator and journalist Jaromir Stetina told the CTK news agency.
In Tanzania, thousands including a large number of schoolchildren gathered at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro carrying placards reading, "Fight Hunger: Walk the World", WFP spokeswoman Heather Hill told AFP.
A group of athletes who had completed their ascent of Kilimanjaro the previous day to mark the event also joined the march, as did Tanzanian Prime Minister Edward Lowassa.
And in Asia WFP employee Mark Squirrel marked the event on Thursday by scaling Everest.
Other Walk the World events were held in Madrid, New Delhi, Islamabad, Amman, Kinshasa and in several other African countries.
The walk the world event "is about creating a movement to end child hunger," said Arlene Mitchell, director of the walk for WFP, in a statement.
"By engaging citizens from rich and poor countries alike, governments worldwide will heed the call, and will do more to end child hunger," said Mitchell.
The event's organisers expected more than 700,000 people to take part worldwide. About 100,000 children were expected to take part in sub-Saharan Africa alone, many of them beneficiaries of WFP programmes.
The WFP says some 300 million children across the world suffer from chronic starvation, a figure it aims to cut in half by 2015.
Ramin Rasirasme, a spokesman for the organisation, said it hoped to raise five million dollars (3.9 million euros) from the event.
"But money is not the only purpose of these demonstrations. The main goal is to make the public, governments and sponsors aware of the problem of hunger, and child hunger in particular," he told AFP.
It hopes to raise money for its two programmes aimed at reducing child hunger, one of which focuses on pregnant and lactating women and young children, while the other provides food for school children.
Another UN body, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), estimates that almost six million children die each year as a result of hunger, which weakens the immune system making them more vulnerable to curable diseases.