UK leader Rishi Sunak urges world to use AI and science to end malnutrition

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Monday that the UK is setting up a new science initiative to help develop flood-tolerant rice, disease-resistant wheat and other crops that are more resilient to climate change.

Sunak told delegates that a “fundamental shift” is needed to confront a food-security crisis that is being worsened by climate change. He focused on the role of science and said the UK would set up a “virtual science hub” linking international researchers working on more resilient crops. The UK hub will be part of a global research partnership known as CGIAR.

“Climate change, conflict and population rise mean ever greater challenges to food supplies,” Sunak said. “So we need a fundamental shift in the way we approach food security, with a focus on long-term solutions to stop food crises before they start. And we need to harness the full power of science and technology to ensure supplies are resilient to threats like conflict, drought and floods.”

The event was co-hosted by Somalia and the United Arab Emirates alongside the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The summit coincided with the publication of a “re-energized” UK development strategy aimed at ending extreme poverty and tackling climate change and biodiversity loss.

The document sets out the UK’s aid plans through 2030, and confirms Britain will not restore development aid to 0.7% of gross national income — after it was cut to 0.5% during the coronavirus pandemic — until “the fiscal situation allows.” Instead, the UK says it will spend smarter, earmarking money to help countries strengthen their defences against natural disasters, raising more private-sector money for development and building “mutually respectful” relationships with developing nations.

“Today’s answer cannot be about rich countries ‘doing development’ to others,” Foreign Secretary David Cameron wrote in an introduction. “We need to work together as partners, shaping narratives which developing countries own and deliver.”

The Lancaster House conference venue was picketed by activists from Medical Aid for Palestinians calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war to get urgently needed food and humanitarian aid into Gaza.

“It is good that they are talking about addressing food and security in the world. But if they’re going to do that seriously, they cannot ignore the situation in Gaza, where 2.2 million people are at risk of starvation,” said the group’s chief executive, Melanie Ward.

“Because of the siege that’s been imposed on Gaza, the amount of aid that’s gotten in the last month is only enough for about two normal days in Gaza. So less than 10% of the food needed to keep people in Gaza alive is actually getting in.”

Like the US, the UK has not called for a cease-fire, but Sunak urged Israel to agree to “urgent and substantive humanitarian pauses” to get in food, fuel and medicine.

“The situation on the ground is truly tragic and getting worse,” he said.

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