Italy's Marco Pannella; Shopping for funds to feed five million
Rome and Brussels
''Outlandish'' is about the only term the politicians here can muster these days to describe the whole idea.Skip to next paragraph
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The outline is actually quite simple:
Reject the current theory of how world hunger will end: that the world helps poor countries develop and become self-sufficient in food by the year 2000. That becomes an excuse for delay.
Embark on a new plan: Start now to save the lives of the 30 million to 40 million people who die each year from hunger-related causes, so that those people will be alive to benefit from the progress in the next 20 years.
Then put your money where your mouth is: Begin saving the lives of people in poor countries who would otherwise die of hunger. For a start, get food to save 5 million of the most desperate this year. Convince your leaders that it's actually in their own interest to foot the bill.
Outlandish? Totally, say the critics.
But then, that's what the critics were saying back in early 1979. That's when an Italian member of Parliament, Marco Pannella, had just undertaken an equally wild-eyed task: transforming economically depressed Italy into a socially conscious world force in foreign aid.
Convinced that this could be done only by the most strident but nonviolent political tactics, Pannella took the hunger cause into Italian living rooms with a Gandhi-inspired, media-broadcast, 35-day fast.
Other political activists were soon doing symbolic fasts in support. By that Easter the crusaders had 15,000 Italians marching through the streets of Rome, demanding that the Italian government act to end world hunger. By Easter, 1980, another 400 political leaders and citizens were fasting throughout Italy, followed by another march in Rome of 50,000.
Ten major parliamentary debates later, with Pannella poised on the verge of still another protest fast in September of last year, Italy's foreign-aid budget had multiplied tenfold, from a lightweight $200 million in 1979 to a formidable of Europe will be too envious not to hop on his latest bandwagon to save the 5 million.
Pannella and his colleagues have not been the only catalyst in the Italian aid explosion. In some respects, it ignited spontaneously under the pressure of circumstances.
Italy needs new trade windows to the third world. Its leaders are newly conscious of how favored they are geographically for trade with Africa, the Middle East, Asia. They certainly don't want to lose the revenues from the four United Nations food agencies that make Rome their home base: the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Program, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Council.
But ask Italians and Europeans these days about world hunger, and the name ''Pannella'' seems to pop up as certainly as Italians make pasta.
For some, his name evokes outrage: They see him as an egotist with self-serving, untrustworthy aims. Others have only admiration for a man they credit with one of the idealistic coups in aid history. But even those who play down the man and his goals admit that the issues he's drawn into focus are a big reason that Italians, and many other Europeans to date, are taking a new tack on hunger.
At 11 p.m., the European Parliament offices in Brussels look devoid of life, except for one lonely light on the third floor: Pannella's. This is the only time Marco Pannella can fit in another visitor, so packed are his days with strategy sessions and talks with European leaders.
He is a big man. From the time you shake his large hand, you are instantly aware of his commanding presence, though the informality of his coat-sweater and his gentility make you feel as if you have stumbled upon him relaxing in his living room on a Sunday afternoon.