world bank calls for food crisis action

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    World Bank calls for food crisis action

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    April 14, 2008 - 7:49AM

    The World Bank has called for the international community to beef up its response to soaring food prices that have led to starvation and are threatening political stability in the developing world.

    Many ministers gathered for the World Bank's annual spring meeting also raised concerns over the increased use of bio-fuels, which share much of the blame for the lack of food supplies, as an alternative energy source.

    A joint statement by the ministers urged countries to meet a $US500 million ($A536.88 million) aid shortfall at the World Food Program to help the world's poorest regions, where hundreds of thousands are threatened with starvation.

    Global food prices have jumped 83 per cent over the last three years, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that the crisis had already toppled a government in Haiti and could push ever more people into poverty.

    "We have to put our money where our mouth is now, so that we can put food into hungry mouths," Zoellick said. "It is as stark as that."

    Many countries put the blame for the food crisis squarely on the increased production of certain bio-fuels that use food crops as an alternative energy source.

    The United States, Europe and other regions have boosted their production of bio-fuels in recent years to reduce their dependence on imported oil and cut greenhouse-gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

    Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram called on industrial nations to cut off all subsidies for such bio-fuel production.

    "In a world where there is hunger and poverty, there is no policy justification for diverting food crops towards bio-fuels," Chidambaram said. "Converting food into fuel is neither good policy for the poor nor for the environment."

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the World Bank's sister-lender the International Monetary Fund, acknowledged the impact of bio-fuels was a serious worry for many developing countries, and said that some ministers had labelled their production a "crisis of humanity" in informal talks.

    "It shows how strong this concern is," Strauss-Kahn said in a press briefing with Zoellick after the bank's Development Committee meeting.

    Strauss-Kahn also warned that the food crisis threatened to derail all progress made in reducing poverty in Africa and other regions.

    "All what has been done can be destroyed very rapidly" by rising food prices, he said.

    Zoellick warned last week that the food crisis could set back poverty reduction in the world's poorest nations by seven years.

    British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alastair Darling said that a key element of Sunday's meeting involved how to "mitigate the negative impact of high commodity prices on the poor in particular."

    He called for a "fully coordinated (international) response to the market turbulence and commodity prices."

    British Prime Minister Gordon Brown this week sent a letter to his Japanese counterpart urging that the food crisis be a central focus of the Group of Eight industrial nations summit in July, which will be hosted by Japan.

    Hundreds of thousands of people are facing starvation, and 33 countries are threatened with social unrest, the World Bank said this week.

    The World Bank on Saturday promised a 10-million-dollar grant to subsidise food in Haiti, where a week of riots led to the sacking of the government of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis.

    Nigerian Finance Minister Shamsuddeen Usman called on the World Bank and international community to "urgently support" efforts to meet the food needs of the most vulnerable people, the majority of whom are in Africa.
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