Feed the world?

We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits … Huge budget deficit means millions more face starvation

Published on the Guardian, by Julian Borger, February 26 2008.

The United Nations warned yesterday that it no longer has enough money to keep global malnutrition at bay this year in the face of a dramatic upward surge in world commodity prices, which have created a “new face of hunger”.

“We will have a problem in coming months,” said Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). “We will have a significant gap if commodity prices remain this high, and we will need an extra half billion dollars just to meet existing assessed needs.”

With voluntary contributions from the world’s wealthy nations, the WFP feeds 73 million people in 78 countries, less than a 10th of the total number of the world’s undernourished. Its agreed budget for 2008 was $2.9bn (£1.5bn). But with annual food price increases around the world of up to 40% and dramatic hikes in fuel costs, that budget is no longer enough even to maintain current food deliveries …


… The impact of climate change will amplify that already dangerous volatility. Record flooding in west Africa, a prolonged drought in Australia and unusually severe snowstorms in China have all had an impact on food production.

“The climate change factor is so far small but it is bound to get bigger,” Von Braun said. “That is the long-term worry and the markets are trying to internalise it.”

The WFP is holding an emergency meeting in Rome on Friday, at which its senior managers will meet board members to brief them on the scale of the problem. There will then be a case-by-case assessment of the seriousness of the situation in the affected countries, before the WFP formally asks for an increased budget at its executive board meeting in June.

But the donor countries are also facing higher fuel and transport costs. For the biggest US food aid programme, non-food costs now account for 65% of total programme expenditure. (full text).

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