- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The World Bank said yesterday that it is speeding up its aid to help an international effort to overcome the global food crisis by providing an extra $1.2 billion in grants and loans.

The move comes ahead of a major U.N. meeting next week in Rome, where donor nations are expected to develop a concrete plan to revitalize and redirect the global response to hunger.

World prices for food are expected to fall from current peaks in the coming years but will remain “substantially above” the average levels of the past decade, according to a joint agricultural report issued yesterday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). The FAO is host to the Rome meeting.

U.S. congressional investigators reported that international aid has declined to Africa - home to many of the world’s poorest and that it appears unlikely that a goal set by the wealthiest nations to halve hunger on the continent by 2015 will be met.

High oil prices, changing diets, urbanization, expanding populations, flawed trade policies, extreme weather, growth in biofuel production and speculation have sent food prices soaring worldwide. These factors have led to riots and protests from Africa to Asia and raised fears that millions more will suffer from malnutrition.

Speaking to reporters in a conference call after a meeting with African leaders in Japan, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick said, “The takeaway that we had is that these leaders are asking for action now.”

Mr. Zoellick warned that unless the international community took action the “bottom billion” - the number of people living on less than a dollar a day - could double.

“People know what to do. We just have to make sure we get the resources and we coordinate the operations around the world with the different parties, so we can deliver the resources, whether it be a safety net program or a seeds program,” Mr. Zoellick said.

To deal with immediate and long-term food problems, the bank said it will increase its overall support for agriculture and food aid to $6 billion next year - up from $4 billion in 2008.

Mr. Zoellick said aid should be provided to handle immediate humanitarian needs such as seeing that pregnant women receive proper nutrition and children at school are fed. He said longer-term help should go to small farmers to include seed and fertilizer for the next planting season so they can increase their harvests.

The joint OECD-FAO report said the world’s poorest nations are most vulnerable to high food prices, particularly the urban poor in food-importing countries, and will require increased humanitarian aid to stave off hunger and undernourishment.

“Rising prices now translate, unfortunately, as an increase in hunger and civil strife. Uncertainty rules, and our people are worried,” said Jacques Diouf, head of the FAO.

In their report on Africa, the U.S. congressional investigators said that in the early 1980s, about 15 percent of all global food aid flowed to Africa, but the share declined to 4 percent by 2006. At the same time, the number of undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa has grown from 170 million to more than 200 million. Of the 15 countries where food riots have occurred since 2007, seven are in that region, the Government Accountability Office said.

The food aid to Africa, particularly from the United States, has gone increasingly to alleviate short-term emergencies rather than to deal with underlying problems that hamper long-term agricultural development, GAO found. U.S. development aid has gone down during the past five years while emergency food aid has spiked, it said.

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