Global Relief Agencies Discuss Food Crisis

International relief agency representatives met in Rome this week to discuss ways of dealing with growing food problems around the world. Rising food prices have not only caused social unrest in some areas, they have also made it worse for many of those suffering from uncertain supplies. Tendai Maphosa in London has more.

Relief agencies say about 850 million people have been suffering from hunger worldwide, and that was before the latest round of price increases began triggering shortages and unrest in hot spots around the world.

At least 10 million people die from the effects of malnutrition each year, and the number is growing. It is against this backdrop that representatives from the aid agencies CARE and Oxfam met in Rome with officials from the Food and Agricultural Organization to discuss ways to deal with the crisis.

CARE spokesman David Kauck spoke about the recent hike in food prices.

"It makes it much worse but it also makes it different. When food prices go up, it reduces poor people's purchasing power and undermines their access to food that and happens virtually everywhere," he said. "So it will happen in many places where we haven't seen food security crises recently. It will happen in cities, it will happen in countries that actually have food surpluses but where there are groups of people whose purchasing power is limited. It's likely to happen in every region of the world."

Kauck tells VOA that the 60 policy experts who gathered in Rome were trying to formulate a more efficient way to deal with new challenges.

"Broadly speaking we are looking for ways to improve emergency response... that will allow us to react quicker and to reduce costs to reach large numbers of people," he said. "Beyond that, we are talking about the fact that many of the problems we are going to face in the future are predictable, and therefore it may be possible to achieve a lot by improving preparedness and by providing safety nets for poor people who are at great risk."

Also on the agenda were efforts to go beyond mobilizing aid. He says aid agencies need to focus on eliminating the underlying causes of food shortages.

Kauck says the humanitarian agencies are also concerned about the fact that aid budgets are limited and, as prices go up, they are able to provide less.

In response to the growing food crisis, the United States has announced it will allocate an additional $200 million to food aid this year.

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