High food prices aggravated by low reserves: UN

April 25th, 2008 - 7:03 am ICT by admin  

New York, April 25 (DPA) Emergency food stocks maintained by countries around the world are at their lowest levels in 30 years, contributing to the surge in global food prices, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said Thursday. The situation has put the WFP and relief organizations in a difficult situation to meet the needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations, said WFP director Josette Sheeran from her Rome-based headquarters.

WFP, which already sought donations of $4.3 billion at the start of the year - before the latest crisis - had been able to raise only $1 billion to date. It has asked donors to make their full annual contributions at the beginning of the year.

In addition, the rise in food and fuel costs had prompted WFP to appeal to donors for an additional $500 million in emergency funds. But Sheeran said that amount has now grown to $755 million.

“I call this a new face of hunger because millions of people, who were not in the urgent category six months ago, have been pushed into that category, and we are seeing people, who are already vulnerable, who are now at great risk of malnutrition,” she said.

She said WFP has yet to calculate how much more money it would need to cover the new crisis, which was not part of the original $4.3-billion budget.

The people threatened with malnutrition include children and pregnant women.

Sheeran cited the needs of Iraqi refugees, including those in Syria, as well as requests by Afghanistan, Haiti and Sudan’s Darfur region. The Afghan government alone asked for $77 million in food aid in 2008.

The spikes in food prices in recent months have added 100 million people to the category of people living on less than $2 a day around the world, which had been estimated at nearly 1 billion people.

Sheeran said the WFP has been forced spend 40 percent more to buy the same amount of food for those in need. WFP normally provide food aid to 80 million to 90 million people a year.

The World Bank this month said global food prices have risen 83 percent in the last three years. Wheat prices worldwide have jumped 120 percent in the last year alone.

Sheeran said the hunger is provoking instability, which has happened in 30 countries where food riots had been documented in recent months. The 40 countries that exported food have decided to restrict their exports in order not to risk their current stocks. This in turn aggravated conditions in importing countries.

Sheeran said hunger has spread to urban areas in some countries and people have changed their diets to adjust to the higher costs.

Even in the United States, two of the largest supermarket chains - Wal-Mart subsidiary Sam’s Club and Costco - have begun restricting sales of rice to prevent hoarding by restaurant owners worried about the continuing rise in prices.

The Italian government donated Wednesday $3.5 million to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in New York. The donation is to boost UN capability to provide food aid.

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