U.N. Fears Food Price ‘Crisis’ Will Worsen

Daily News Article   —   Posted on April 15, 2008

(by Betsy Pisik, April 15, 2008, WashingtonTimes.com) NEW YORK — Hunger caused by high food prices is likely to get worse before it eases, senior U.N. officials warned yesterday.

“The global rise in food prices … is not a temporary blip in prices caused by a crop failure here or there,” Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters.

“The factors include population growth, changing dietary patterns, prosperity in countries like China and India, [diverting crops for] fuel and lower [food] reserves,” Mr. Holmes said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon struck a similar chord, saying in a speech, “We need not only short-term emergency measures to meet urgent critical needs and avert starvation in many regions across the world, but also a significant increase in long-term productivity in food grain production.”

Speaking immediately after vicious riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, Cameroon, the Philippines, Burkina Faso and other poor nations where the prices of rice and other staples have soared, Mr. Holmes made it clear that the wealthier countries must increase their contributions or risk more widespread hunger, malnutrition and death.

“I would call this a global food-price crisis,” Mr. Holmes told reporters. “The solution has to be in increasing food production in the world. That’s the only solution there can be.”

That goal is distant, though, and the $3-billion-a-year World Food Program (WFP) last month issued an emergency appeal for $500 million just to continue its existing programs in 78 countries.

World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick last weekend urged richer nations to supplement the WFP budget after economic ministers warned about the risk of instability in their regions.

“We have to put our money where our mouth is now, so that we can put food into hungry mouths,” Mr. Zoellick said. “It is as stark as that.”

Any extra funding would do nothing to help those who will only now find themselves unable to afford food as demand far outstrips supply.

An estimated 78 million people already are on WFP food rations, and no U.N. relief agency will estimate how many more might be added to the rolls as the crisis continues. In Afghanistan alone, officials in January appealed for $80 million to offset rising wheat prices.

Biofuel is one of the main reasons for rising demand, analysts say, noting that the amount of corn needed to make a few tanks of fuel could feed a person for a year. The United States is one of the largest consumers of corn for biofuel.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino yesterday acknowledged that the United States is taking much of the available crop.

“We recognize that moving from an oil-based economy to one that’s based more on renewable or alternative fuels is going to be one that requires a transition period,” she said.

Mr. Holmes stressed that short-term solutions are important as prices spike, but insisted that long-term solutions are more important.

Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.

Questions

1.  List the factors that have caused rapidly increasing food prices around the world.

2.  What do we need to do to prevent a worldwide crisis, according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon?

3.  List some of the countries in which riots have taken place over the rising prices of rice and other staples.

4.  What must wealthier countries (the U.S. and others) do to prevent more widespread hunger, malnutrition and death, according to John Holmes of the U.N.’s Humanitarian Affairs office?

5.  a) How much money does the U.N. (with almost 25% of its funding coming from the U.S.) spend a year on the World Food Program?
b)  How many countries does the WFP currently help?
c)  How many people are currently on WFP food rations?
d)  How much extra money has the WFP asked for in an emergency appeal just to continue its existing programs?

6.  The use of biofuels in gasoline is one of the main reasons for rising demand of corn.  For how long could one person be fed on the amount of corn needed to make a few tanks of fuel?

7. The purpose of increasing the use of Biofuels – ethanol in gasoline – is to reduce U.S. need for oil, and to reduce the perceived effects that the use of gasoline has on the perceived global warming crisis.  The unintended consequence of attempts to improve the environment are higher food prices, which have contributed to the global food crisis.  Farmers are planting corn to sell for ethanol use.  This causes a rise in animal feed prices, which causes a rise in the price of meat and dairy products. (If it costs more for a farmer to feed his chickens or cattle, he will have to charge higher prices when selling his eggs, milk, beef, chicken, etc.) 
a) Who benefits from the government imposed use of ethanol?
b) Who gets hurt by the use of ethanol?
c) Should the U.S. government continue to mandate the amount of ethanol used in gasoline?  Explain your answer.


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Resources

Read a San Francisco blog entry/commentary about ethanol use here.