WASHINGTON, April 29: The World Bank chief warned on Tuesday that 100 million people have already been pushed into poverty due to a man-made food crisis while as many as two billion are on the verge of disaster.
“This is not a natural disaster,” said Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank. “Make no mistake; there is nothing natural about this. But for millions of people it is a disaster.”
He noted that hunger and malnutrition were already the underlying causes of death of over 3.5 million children every year, robbing the future potential of many millions more.
In Washington, a US government commission is investigating claims that big investors who buy large quantities for future trading are largely responsible for the current unprecedented hike in food prices across the world.
The use of corn and soyabean as bio-fuel also contributed to this crisis by moving farmers away from food to cash crops and by driving food prices beyond the reach of common people.
After an annual meeting in Washington earlier this month, the bank warned that the world is facing an unprecedented food crisis which may cause riots and wars if not checked.
“The next few weeks are critical for addressing the food crisis,” said Mr Zoellick on Tuesday. “For 2 billion people, high food prices are now a matter of daily struggle, sacrifice and for too many, even survival.”
Mr Zoellick, who issued the statement after attending a meeting of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination in Berne, Switzerland, said the bank believes that already some 100 million people may have been pushed into poverty as a result of high prices over the last 2 years.
For the immediate crisis, the bank urged governments to fill the $500 million food gap identified by the UN World Food Programme.
The bank also launched an emergency management programme called the “new deal,” pledging to nearly double agricultural lending to Sub-Saharan Africa over the next year to $800 million to substantially increase crop productivity.
“Donors must act now to support the WFP’s call for some $755 million to meet emergency needs,” said Mr Zoellick.
He also warned donors to fulfil their pledges, noting that roughly $475 million have so far been pledged. “But pledges won’t feed hungry mouths,” he said. “Donors must put their money on the table, and give WFP maximum flexibility – with a minimum of earmarking – to target the most urgent needs.”
Mr Zoellick said that the proposed ‘new deal’ must embrace a short-, medium- and long-term response: support for safety nets such as school feeding, food for work, and conditional cash transfer programmes.
He also called for increased agricultural production; a better understanding of the impact of bio-fuels and action on the trade front to reduce “distorting subsidies,” and trade barriers.
“We are urging countries not to use export bans. These controls encourage hoarding, drive up prices and hurt the poorest people around the world who are struggling to feed themselves,” he said.
The international community, Mr Zoellick added needs to commit to working together to respond with policy initiatives, “so that this year’s crisis doesn’t become a generation’s fact of life.”