World food crisis leaves poorest running on empty

As this article was written, 935,110,239 people throughout the world were undernourished. By the time it’s read, dozens more would be added to the list.

World Bank’s running tally of global hunger is escalating with spiking food prices.

The bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, tabled figures this week showing a stunning 36 per cent increase in food prices over the past year, hitting the peaks last seen in 2008.

Meanwhile, the UN’s World Food Program sounded the alarm that more than 7 million Afghans will face severe hunger by the end of the year, as a 50 per cent shortfall in funding for its food aid operation in the strife-torn country creates “looming gaps in supply.”

“Food security is the bedrock of development in this country, especially for the youngest and most vulnerable,” said a statement from the agency’s country director Louis Imbleau.

Imbleau is predicting a “critical pipeline break” in the supply of wheat, a staple of the Afghan diet, in June. School feeding programs are also seen at risk.

A decade after the Taliban were ousted, millions are still going hungry in Afghanistan. A persistent drought has ravaged crops, and guerrilla fighting makes agriculture unsustainable in some areas.

As world food prices rise, the situation in the country’s Badakhshan and Hazarajat regions is “grim, with many of the most vulnerable families facing famine-like conditions,” says the London-based charity Oxfam,

The outlook for hungry Afghans will be worse as the scorching summer arrives, especially if there is a predicted upsurge in fighting. By August, the World Food Program says, supplies of vegetable oil and pulses, as well as wheat, would run out unless donors deliver at least $250 million for new stockpiles.

Afghanistan’s plight is part of a world food crisis that has been aggravated by rising fuel prices, severe weather, crop diseases, market speculation, and the diverting of farmland to biofuels.

“We’re now in a situation where emerging markets are half of global growth,” said Zoellick at a World Bank forum in Washington this week. “There is more demand for commodities.”

High food prices are the biggest threat facing the world’s poor today, Zoellick said. “We’re at a real tipping point . . . 44 million people have fallen into poverty since last June. If (prices) rise above 10 per cent, another 10 million will be in poverty.”

Tom Arnold, CEO of the international humanitarian agency Concern Worldwide, said the issue had taken on “added urgency” as the U.S. Congress debated the prospect of deep cuts to the foreign aid budget this week.

“It is not just the consistent and rapid increase in (food) prices that is alarming,” Arnold said in a statement. “It is the volatility that is causing alarm, with price fluctuations becoming greater and — perhaps more worryingly — less predictable. The global food system itself is becoming more volatile.

“In this turbulent scenario it is those who are least able to cope who will bear the brunt of the impact.”

Food aid and other measures to reduce the increasing burden on the poorest are made more difficult by the global economic crisis, which has left even wealthier countries deep in debt.

But the hungriest people, said World Bank, could also be helped by several measures:

• Rolling back laws that require food crops to be blended for fuel when food prices reach a certain level.

• Creating financial instruments to combat price volatility.

• Fortifying rice to make it more nutritious.

• Making bigger investments in agriculture and adopting new technologies.

Leave a Reply