The World Bank on Wednesday called on the international community to mount a wide-ranging fight against hunger as skyrocketing food prices critically threaten the world's poor.
"We need a New Deal for Global Food Policy," World Bank president Robert Zoellick said in a speech to a Washington think tank ahead of next week's spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Referring to a 1930s US government initiative to tackle the problems of the Great Depression, Zoellick said that the new New Deal for Global Food Policy should start by helping those who are most immediately threatened with malnutrition and starvation.
Zoellick urged countries to provide the minimum $500 million immediately sought by the World Food Program (WFP) to face the mounting food crisis.
The United States, European Union, Japan, and other developed countries "must act now to fill this gap -- or many more people will suffer and starve," he told the Center for Global Development.
The WFP, a United Nations agency, issued "an extraordinary emergency appeal" to governments on March 20 for money to close a widening funding gap created by soaring food and fuel prices. Without such immediate help, the WFP warned it may have to cut food rations.
Zoellick said that the World Bank "will almost double our own lending for agriculture in Africa, from $450 million to $800 million."
He said the World Bank estimates 33 countries face potential social unrest because of the stark rises in food and energy prices.
"For these countries, where food comprises from half to three quarters of consumption, there is no margin for survival," he said in a speech ahead of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's spring meetings on April 12-13 in Washington.
The 185-nation development lender, whose core mission is to reduce poverty, is working in more than 100 countries. Almost one billion people live on less than one dollar a day; 2.5 billion live on less than $2 a day.
A surge in international prices of most cereals over the past two years has rippled through the price chain, driving up the retail prices of basic foods such as bread, meat and milk.
Zoellick noted the real price of rice last month had hit a 19-year high and that of wheat rose to a 28-year high.
The spiraling prices have forced some developing countries to take emergency measures to guarantee their food stockpiles.
On Tuesday, amid a second day of violent protests against soaring prices in Abidjan, the Ivory Coast government temporarily lifted tariffs on imports of certain food essentials, including rice, wheat flour, sugar, milk and fish.
Vietnam on Friday said it would cut rice exports this year in an effort to secure domestic supplies and stabilize prices now driving double-digit inflation.
Also Friday, Egypt suspended rice exports for six months, from April until October, to try to meet the demands of its own people hit by soaring food prices.
"This New Deal should focus not only on hunger and malnutrition," Zoellick said, but also on "the interconnections with energy, yields, climate change, investment, the marginalization of women and others, and economic resiliency and growth."
The World Bank "can help by backing emergency measures that support the poor while encouraging incentives to produce and market food as part of sustainable development," he added.
Zoellick proposed three other measures to soften the impact of a slowing world economy on the most vulnerable countries: investment in Africa by sovereign wealth funds; strengthening the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, launched in 2002 to improve governance in resource-rich countries; and conclusion of the World Trade Organization's Doha Round of negotiations. (AFP)
World Bank calls for 'New Deal' to fight hunger