- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

NEW YORK — The leaders of more than two dozen U.N. agencies pledged yesterday a coordinated effort to attack the global food crisis.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened the meeting of 27 agencies in Switzerland to chart a more comprehensive response from the organization, which already feeds and cares for 88 million people in 78 countries.

An additional 100 million of the world’s poorest are in danger of lapsing into hunger, malnutrition or starvation, according to the World Food Program, which has in recent months issued emergency appeals for $755 million to offset rising prices of flour, rice, grains and even dairy products. The program estimates 870 million people are already hungry.

“In the short term, we must address all humanitarian crises, which have been impacting the poorest of the poor people in the world,” Mr. Ban said prior to yesterday’s meeting.

“In the long term, the international community, particularly the leaders of the international community, should sit down together on an urgent basis and address how we can, first of all, improve these economic systems, distribution systems, as well as how we can promote the improved production of agricultural products.”

Spiking prices have taken food staples out of the reach of millions, triggering rioting in countries from Indonesia to Peru to Senegal to Haiti.

The conference, in Bern , was attended by World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, and the heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund, UNICEF,the U.N. Development Program, the U.N. Environmental Program, the High Commissioner for Refugees, and others.

“[Mr. Ban] believes this issue is much larger than one person or one agency can handle,” said U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe, explaining his decision to make the food crisis the centerpiece of the annual meeting of the world body’s Chief Executive Board.

The board also includes the head of the U.N. offices that oversee weather forecasting, intellectual property, Palestinian aid and global postal services.

U.N. officials have begun to call the price increases and food shortages “the silent tsunami” for its broad effects on people.

Farmers are cultivating less ground because less fertilizer is available and seeds are more expensive; droughts in large parts of the world are rendering more land unable to support crops; food crops are increasingly diverted for biofuels; currencies pegged to the U.S. dollar are losing their buying power; many agricultural nations have halted exports to ensure food for their own people; and some nations are binge-buying and hoarding staples.

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