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Bangladesh Steps Up Food Aid for Poor as Rice Prices Soar


Bangladesh is stepping up food aid for millions of poor people following a massive hike in prices for rice in recent months. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi that the government is trying to rush in rice from overseas.

Officials in Dhaka said Monday the government will give food assistance to more than half a million families over the next five months.

The government also will sell 45,000 tons of rice to poor people at subsidized rates.

The decision came as prices for rice soared to nearly half a dollar a kilo - almost 70 percent higher than a year ago. The spiraling prices hurt the poor in a country where an estimated 60 million live on less than $1 a day.

Rice is a staple food for most people in Bangladesh. But the country is reeling under a severe shortage after natural disasters wiped out much of the crop.

"We had the floods that came in August, which affected about 10 districts…. And then the cyclone came in, so we have had, and the natural disasters, which have affected almost 50 percent, 40 percent of the country," said Douglas Broderick, who heads the World Food Program in Dhaka. "Obviously this was a very bad year for Bangladesh, which is prone to natural disasters, but it has been kind of a double hit, a double whammy on the country."

The government is procuring stocks from overseas to tide the country over until the next harvest.

It has asked neighboring India as well as Vietnam to send rice. It also is importing rice from Thailand. Shipments are expected to arrive over the next two weeks.

The WFP's Broderick says the government is doing its best to build up food stocks through imports.

"Fifty-thousand tons of food right now is what we are concerned about," he said. "We need that … it is something they [government] are working very hard in terms of procurement."

The government hopes prices will fall after it sells some of the imported grain in the market at subsidized rates.

Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries, and its vulnerability to natural disasters often worsens the plight of its population.

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