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A Haitian woman places her hand on a 50 kilo sack of rice received as food aid on February 11, 2010 as she and others take a break from carrying it down the hill to her tent at a camp for people that have been displaced from their homes by the deadly quake. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images/Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)
A Haitian woman places her hand on a 50 kilo sack of rice received as food aid on February 11, 2010 as she and others take a break from carrying it down the hill to her tent at a camp for people that have been displaced from their homes by the deadly quake. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images/Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Our time to lead

Canada should bring poor nations to the food aid discussion table Add to ...

At a time when food prices are sky-high, enriching countries such as Canada, the hungry people in the world - 800 million of them - don't always get food aid when they need it most. And they don't have a seat at the table where life-and-death matters are decided.

Canada should help change that. It is chairing the Food Aid Committee, a little-known body of wealthy countries that imposes a legal obligation on its members to provide development assistance. As it stands, if a country doesn't live up to its yearly promise, no worries - it can catch up next year, when prices drop. That's just one of many perverse incentives when some of the richest countries on Earth share their wealth with the poorest. And the poorest have no place in the deliberations.

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Canada could push, when the committee meets Monday [MONDAY]/note>, to allow poor nations to observe and speak. This could lead to more effective aid at a time when the need is growing more desperate, because of sharply rising prices, drought and other natural disasters whose frequency will only increase in an era of climate change.

Some countries may object to anything that makes their record more transparent. Others may worry about kleptocrats trying to dictate the terms of aid. But countries that are permitted some form of representation could be obliged, in return, to take on commitments of their own - to ensure the safety of food-aid workers, the security of food aid and the independence of food-aid agencies. And never to use food as a political or military instrument.

Canada, respected for its humanitarian record on food aid, has a great deal of moral suasion with the committee. It could use that suasion to bring north and south together, increasing the chance that the billions spent on food aid will work in the emergencies to come.

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