U.N. makes 'emergency' call for food aid

ROME (AP) — A U.N. food agency on Monday announced an "extraordinary emergency appeal" to donor countries to help close a gap of at least $500 million blamed on soaring prices for fuel and food.

The Rome-based World Food Program said it issued the appeal in a letter sent to governments on Thursday, urging them to be as generous as possible by May 1 so the WFP will not have to begin rationing food aid.

The agency estimates that in Darfur alone it needs to provide emergency food for as many as 3 million people daily. The organization, the world's largest humanitarian agency, gives food to as many as 70 million people worldwide.

Earlier this month, WFP executive director Josette Sheeran said that the high prices of food and oil have been swelling the ranks of the hungry since last summer, and cautioned that the crisis would continue for several years.

Sheeran said that a 40% rise in the cost of fuel and commodities such as grain since mid-2007 have raised the cost of food and transport, causing the shortfall in the agency's 2008 budget.

She said that the agency needs an extra $375 million for food and $125 million to transport it. That was the shortfall as of Feb. 25, she said.

In the letter sent to donor countries, Sheeran said that WFP was trying to deal with the soaring fuel and food prices by purchasing 80% of food in local and regional markets.

"But even with our mitigation efforts, the cost of our food purchases has risen 55% since June 2007," she wrote. "We urge your government to act quickly on this request so that we may avoid cutting the rations for those who rely on the world to stand by them in times of abject need."

Sheeran has urged governments to deal quickly with issues of rising food costs. She has cited recent food riots in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal and Morocco.

Corn, soybeans, sugar cane and other crops are seen as sources of clean and cheap biofuels. This means less grain is available for human consumption, driving up prices for basic foodstuffs.

Another U.N. agency based in Rome, the Food and Agriculture Organization, estimates that 100 million tons of cereals are diverted to the production of biofuels each year.

Original article: USA Today
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