London summit to tackle food price 'tsunami'
22/04/2008 11h02

LONDON (AFP) - The UN food agency said the world faced a "silent tsunami" of soaring food prices ahead of a summit here Tuesday aimed at developing a plan to tackle a potential hunger crisis.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said high food prices threatened to plunge more than 100 million people into hunger, ahead of the summit of policymakers and experts being hosted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"This is the new face of hunger -- the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are," said WFP executive director Josette Sheeran.

"The response calls for large-scale, high-level action by the global community, focused on emergency and longer-term solutions."

Experts believe high food prices have pushed around 100 million people deeper into poverty, she said, adding that the situation needed the same kind of action and generosity as that witnessed following the 2004 Asian tsunami.

"What we are seeing now is affecting more people on every continent, destroying even more livelihoods and the nutrition losses will hurt children for a lifetime."

Food prices have been spiralling due to the use of biofuels to combat climate change; rising populations; strong demand from developing countries, and floods and droughts blamed on climate change.

"At the moment we're hearing a lot about the world financial crisis," Brown wrote in an article to be published on his office's website, a copy of which was distributed by Downing Street.

"But there's another world crisis underway, a world food crisis that threatens to roll back progress made in recent years to lift millions out of poverty."

The international community "will need both short-term measures to deal with immediate hardship as well as a plan to address the more structural causes."

In all, 25 people will attend the summit, including Sheeran, African Development Bank chief Donald Kaberuka, Britain's environment and international development ministers, the country's chief scientist, as well as campaigners, businesspeople and experts.

According to a Downing Street spokesman, a complete set of proposals would be taken to a European Union meeting of heads of state and government in June, the Group of Eight industrialised countries the following month, and the UN in September, although no final plan will be presented after the London summit.

"Tackling hunger is a moral challenge to each of us and it is also a threat to the political and economic stability of nations," Brown wrote.

"So I believe we need to see a fully coordinated response by the international community."

In his article, he also called for an "agricultural revolution" for farmers to produce higher-yielding crops, but added that increased investment was needed in storage facilities and roads so that they could better sell their products in markets.

On biofuels, Brown said they were "frequently energy inefficient".

"We need to look closely at the impact on food prices and the environment of different production methods and to ensure we are more selective in our support."

Biofuels were developed as part of plans to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, held responsible for global warming, but since they take up land that would otherwise be used for food production, they have been increasingly blamed for soaring food prices.

Brown wrote to his Japanese counterpart Yasuo Fukuda earlier this month to urge him to include the impact of biofuel production on food prices on the agenda of the G8 summit in July.

The prime minister said a global trade deal was "inches" away and "could be a huge incentive for increased food production in poor countries."

Original article: AFP
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