US releases $200m for food aid

US president authorises release of funds to combat growing global food crisis.

    Food price protests such as this one in Bangladesh
    have erupted in 37 countries [AFP]

    "This additional food aid will address the impact of rising commodity prices on US emergency food aid programmes and be used to meet unanticipated food aid needs in Africa and elsewhere," the White House said in a statement.
    White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said that Bush remained "very concerned" about the crisis after directing the US State Department to examine the issue and added the US president would "strongly consider" further monetary aid if needed.
    Global food crisis

    Food riots have erupted in countries including Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Haiti in the past month


    In Pakistan and Thailand, army troops have been deployed to avoid food being seized from fields and warehouses


    Prices in these countries for foodstuffs such as rice, wheat, sorghum and maize have doubled


    Causes of crisis range from financial speculation on food commodities, desertification, population increases, China and India's economic growth and use of grains to make biofuels


    Cost of funding projects enabling governments to tackle food crisis could be up to $1.7bn


    However world cereal production in 2008 is projected to increase by 2.6 per cent to a record 2,164 million tonnes


    Source: United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO)

    The US move comes shortly after Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, called emergency and long-term aid in the crisis, warning that it could lead to serious political upheavals.
    "The rapidly escalating crisis of food availability around the world has reached emergency proportions," he told a joint meeting of key UN financial, economic and trade institutions at the UN in New York.
    "We need not only short-term emergency measures to meet urgent critical needs and avert starvation in many regions across the world, but also a significant increase in long-term productivity in food grain production," Ban told the meeting."

    The US pledge also comes a day after the World Bank said it had created a "new plan" to help those affected by the crisis and, alongside the International Monetary Fund (IMF), urged wealthy nations to contribute $500m towards easing the problem.
    At a meeting of senior World Bank executives in Washington DC on Sunday, Robert Zoellick, the World Bank president, said that as food prices have doubled in the past three years an additional 100 million people could be pushed deeper into poverty.
    "This is about ensuring that future generations don't pay a price too," Zoellick said.


    "We have to put our money where our mouth is now so that we can put food into hungry mouths. It's as stark as that."
    Leap in prices
    The World Bank's first response to the crisis has been a $10m grant for feeding programmes in Haiti, where food riots have just forced the removal of the country's prime minister.

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    In addition to $500m appeal, the World Bank also called on oil-exporting countries to invest more of their windfall earnings in Africa.
    Shifting just one per cent of the assets held by those countries' sovereign investment funds could put $30bn towards African development.
    The World Bank said there are plans to nearly double its lending for agriculture in Africa to $800m.
    Increases in the price of rice, wheat, corn, cooking oil, milk and other foodstuff have sparked violent protests in at least 37 countries including Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Madagascar, the Philippines and Indonesia.
    The World Bank has reported that global wheat prices jumped 181 per cent over the 36 months to February, with overall food prices up 83 per cent.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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