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April 06, 2008

World Bank calls for coordinated anti-hunger effort as food prices escalate

With skyrocketing food prices critically threatening the world's poor, the World Bank has called on the international community to mount a coordinated fight against hunger.

'We need a New Deal for Global Food Policy,' the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, said in remarks prepared for delivery to a Washington think tank.

Referring to a 1930s US government program that tackled 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.

The president of the World Bank, which made agriculture a priority at its annual meeting in October, 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, the European Union, Japan, and other OECD countries must act now to fill this gap -- or many more people will suffer and starve,' he said in a speech to 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 dollars.'

According to World Bank estimates, 33 countries face potential social unrest because of the stark rises in food and energy prices.

Speaking ahead of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's spring meetings on April 12-13 in Washington, 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.

'This New Deal should focus not only on hunger and malnutrition,' he 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.


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