April 30, 2008

Food Crisis Could Result in Malnutrition for Millions

The international food crisis is likely to cause malnutrition rather than famine, said John Holmes, the U.N.'s top humanitarian aid official, on Wednesday.

"People, particularly those on the lowest incomes, will be eating less and less well," he said during a news conference in Geneva.

"I don't think that in the very short term we are talking about starvation and famine," Holmes said.

On Tuesday, while announcing the launch of a new task force, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said progress has been made, but some nations "still face a development emergency."

Heads of key agencies such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Food Program, Food and Agriculture Organization, World Trade Organization, World Health Organization and International Fund for Agricultural Development, will all be involved with the group, Holmes said.

Speaking of "the plight of roughly 1 billion of the world's poorest people," Ban said: "Worldwide, too many people still go hungry.  More than half a million women die, needlessly, in childbirth each year.  Some 10 million children die every year from preventable diseases, half of them in Africa. This is deplorable and unacceptable."

"We are familiar with the causes: rising oil prices, growing global demand, bad trade policies, bad weather, panic buying and speculation, the new craze of biofuels derived from food products and so on and so on," he said.

"We all know the effect on markets: how the price of basic food stuffs seems to hit new records almost daily, how the price of rice, in particular, has gone from $400 a ton some weeks ago, to now $1000 a ton."

Holmes has also petitioned governments to provide money for the food crisis in countries from Peru to Indonesia to Afghanistan to Senegal, leaving the World Food Program with limited resources.

Malnourishment poses a threat to young children as well as pregnant and nursing mothers in developing countries, officials said.

"The challenges here are likely to be of sufficient dimension that we will be asking for additional contributions," Holmes said, noting that the U.N.'s pot of rainy-day cash -- known as the Central Emergency Response Fund, or CERF -- had already disbursed money for various food-related crises.

"CERF is available for precisely these types of situations," he said. "Will CERF be big enough to respond to those needs? That is a question I cannot answer yet."


On the Net:

United Nations

World Food Program