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Rising Costs Jeopardize UN Food Programs

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Due to an increase in food prices this past year, the United Nations has warned that its World Food Programme could fall short in providing aid to at least 28 countries this year.

According to a new UN report, severe droughts occurring in various regions across the world, combined with severe crop shortages and a price hike in existing crops, will severely inhibit the organization’s ability to assist the more than 90 million people it has continued to sustain.

In 2006 alone, the organization reportedly spent over $600 million providing staple foods to nations in need. If prices continue to rise at the current rate, the UN subsidiary estimates that food costs will exceed its budget.

“We face the tightest agricultural markets in decades and, in some cases, on record,” Josette Sheeran, World Food Programme Fund director, said in an interview with the Financial Times.

In addition, civil strife, internal conflict, effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and adverse weather conditions—including the 2004 Tsunami in Southeast Asia and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan—have exacerbated the situation for thousands of residents currently receiving aid.

If certain aid programs were halted, recipients would have nowhere to turn for food.

According to a crop prospects report issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, “An anticipated slowdown in growth of cereal production in low-income food-deficit countries, coupled with prospects for continued high international prices, could result in a tighter food supply situation for these countries in the coming year.”

Places hardest hit would include Lesotho, Somalia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, along with 16 other countries in Africa, seven in Asia, as well as Bolivia, the report states.

Several other areas are also experiencing hardship:

  • Morocco – Drought there has caused a poor yield in cereal crops; experts estimate production levels are only one quarter of last year’s.

  • Iraq – Instability continues to threaten the food situation, with more than 1.8 million individuals having been displaced in four years of conflict.

  • Bangladesh – Unstable weather conditions have depleted the nation’s wheat crops.

  • Nepal – 42 of its 75 districts are considered food deficient.

Though the situation appears especially bleak in Africa, not all African nations are seeing crop failures this year. Several countries in the continent’s southern tip—Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar and Zambia—reported record or above average harvests. However, according to the report, surpluses in certain areas may not be enough to make a difference worldwide.

Along with drought and various other international problems, authorities credit the high cost of crops to an increase in biofuel production.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture relayed concerns about the production of ethanol. It warned that surging corn prices resulting from a decreased level of production, combined with continued strong demand for its use in ethanol, was not helping to resolve the price issue. (It is thought that using ethanol as an alternative fuel source may help combat the effects of global warming.)

United Nations Environmental Program Director, Achim Steiner, agreed: “There is significant potential and risk for competition between food production and production for global biofuels markets. We have to be aware that there are risks, and for some countries those risks may not be worth taking” (Reuters).


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