Tuesday April 15, 2008
UN chief: Food crisis has reached emergency proportions
UNITED NATIONS (AP): Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Monday that the rapidly escalating global food crisis has reached emergency proportions and threatens to wipe out seven years of progress in the fight against global poverty.
He called for short-term emergency measures in many regions to meet urgent food needs and avoid starvation and longer-term efforts to significantly increase production of food grains.
The "international community will also need to take urgent and concerted action in order to avoid the larger political and security implications of this growing crisis,'' Ban told international finance and trade officials at a U.N. meeting following their weekend talks in Washington.
"The U.N. needs to examine ways to lead a process for the immediate and longer-term responses to these global problems,'' he said.
The secretary-general echoed World Bank President Robert Zoellick's appeal to governments on Sunday to quickly provide the U.N. World Food Program with US$500 million (euro316 million) in emergency aid it needs by May 1.
Zoellick said the international community has "to put our money where our mouth is'' to deal with rapidly rising food prices that have caused hunger and deadly violence in several countries.
Ban said the recent steep rise in food prices "has already raised the cost of WFP's needs to maintain its current operations from US$500 million to US$755 million.''
WFP, the world's largest humanitarian agency, issued an "extraordinary emergency appeal'' to donor countries for US$500 million last month, saying the money was needed by May 1 to avoid cutting rations to some of the world's most impoverished regions. The Rome-based agency said its funding gap was growing weekly.
"The rapidly escalating crisis of food availability around the world has reached emergency proportions,'' Ban said. U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes was more cautious in his assessment.
While the world should recognize that "it's a very serious problem which has global ramifications,'' Holmes said, "I think we should be a little bit careful of being too alarmist about it and suggesting there are mass problems around the corner, or that it's a global emergency we have to solve with every detail tomorrow.''
The international community is still grappling with the number of people affected, how many face malnutrition or food insecurity, and the potential cost.
"I would call it a global food price crisis for the moment ... which is having knock-on effects in other areas,'' Holmes said. It is driving by rising demand and there also appears to be speculation in commodities that is behind some of the recent price rises, he told a news conference.
He stressed that the US$500 million sought by WFP "does not cover any new needs that might arise from price rises ... or if the number of desperately hungry people in a country doubles, for example.''
Ban noted that "the World Bank has estimated that the doubling of food prices over the last three years could push 100 million people in low income countries deeper into poverty.''
He echoed Zoellick in warning that that the food crisis "could mean seven lost years in the fight against worldwide poverty.''
The United Nations is at a mid-point in its campaign to reduce global poverty and improve living standards of the world's bottom billion. The Millennium Development Goals, adopted at a U.N. summit in 2000, include cutting extreme poverty by half by 2015.
Mexican finance official Ricardo Ochoa, speaking on behalf of the World Bank's Development Committee, said many countries are on track to meet the poverty goal but not most of sub-Saharan Africa -- and he called for "stronger, sustainable and more equitable growth.''
Philippe Douste-Blazy, the secretary-general's special adviser on innovative ways to finance development, called for more "global brainstorming,'' saying one idea being explored would tax stock transactions around the world.
Ochoa noted that the impact of higher commodity prices has been mixed, depending on whether countries are net exporters or importers.
"Within countries, large groups of poor people are severely affected by health, food and energy prices across the developing world,'' he said.
The Development Committee urged the World Bank group and the International Monetary Fund "to provide timely policy and financial support ... to countries dealing with negative shocks including from energy and food shortages,'' Ochoa said.
IMF Deputy Managing Director Murilo Portugal said that since the last meetings of the fund and bank in October, "global financial instability has increased, world economic growth has slowed, and the growth prospects for this year and next year have deteriorated.''
"Inflation risks from higher food, energy and commodity prices have also risen,'' he said.
"Emerging markets and developing countries have continued to show resilience in the face of this ongoing financial crisis, but their growth prospects have also moderated, and inflation risks have increased,'' Portugal said. "For many countries, containing inflation and addressing vulnerabilities will remain a key priority.''