Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Surge in food prices could lead to increased unrest, warns senior UN aid official

from the UN News Service

The head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today called on donors to respond to the agency’s appeal for additional funds to deliver lifesaving assistance, warning that the global surge in food prices could lead to further tensions such as those witnessed recently in Haiti and other countries.

“What we see in Haiti is what we’re seeing in many of our operations around the world – rising prices that mean less food for the hungry. A new face of hunger is emerging: even where food is available on the shelves, there are now more and more people who simply cannot afford it,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

Following the deaths of four people in two days of rioting last week over rising food prices, WFP has called on donors once again to urgently support its operations in Haiti, which has been particularly vulnerable to the spike in costs.

So far the agency has only received 13 per cent – or $12.4 million – of the $96 million required to assist 1.7 million people in Haiti – the western hemisphere’s poorest country. As a result, it barely has enough to support operations throughout April.

“Riots in Haiti underline the additional need for lifesaving food assistance,” Ms. Sheeran said. “At this critical time, we need to stand with the people of Haiti and other countries hardest hit by rising food prices.”

Last month, WFP announced it was seeking funding to close a $500 million gap caused by the global spike in food and fuel prices, which have increased by an estimated 55 per cent since last June.

In addition to Haiti, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Indonesia, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal have also experienced unrest in recent weeks related to soaring food and fuel prices.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been watching the rise in global food prices with “deep concern,” according to his spokesperson, who noted that the reasons for the shortages are many and cannot be solely ascribed to a simple trade-off between biofuels and agriculture, though this may be a factor.

“We must take steps, beginning now, to assure the world’s food security,” Michele Montas told reporters in New York, emphasizing the need to first meet urgent humanitarian needs and to then increase production.

The effects of rising food prices also featured in discussions between the UN’s top humanitarian official and leaders in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

“I have found a shared concern around the region about the potential effects of the current structural shift upwards in basic food prices across the world,” said John Holmes, who is on a six-day mission to the Gulf region, along with the Secretary-General’s Special Humanitarian Envoy, Abdul Aziz Arrukban.

“Tackling this global issue is a long-term challenge to the wider international system, but meanwhile we need to be aware of the short-term humanitarian effects in terms of increased hunger and greater strain on our resources in trying to combat this,” he added. “This is a huge common problem we have to address together.”

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