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Economic Policy Makers See Food Crisis as Major Problem

Economic policy makers from all corners of the word ended their meeting in in Washington with a call for assistance to countries most affected by a recent sharp rise in food prices. VOA's Barry Wood reports.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said help is needed for countries in which sharply higher food prices are causing hunger. Many grain prices have nearly doubled in the past year and the impact is particularly severe in impoverished countries like Haiti and Bangladesh. Zoellick said a 500 million dollar emergency feeding program will be set up.

"We have to put our money where our mouth is," said Robert Zoellick. "Now. So that we can put food into hungry mouths. It's as stark as that."

International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who participated in the Sunday meeting of the World Bank's Development Committee, warned that the inflationary effect of higher food prices could push millions back into poverty.

"All that has been done [achieved over the past decade] can be undone very rapidly by the crisis coming from the increase in food prices," said Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

In Asia rice prices have risen by more than 75 percent in less than three months and some rice exporting countries have placed restrictions on foreign sales.

Policymakers who came to Washington for this previously scheduled meeting of the IMF and World Bank governing body were sobered by the sudden deterioration in the world economic outlook. Growth has slowed to its slowest pace in five years while food and energy prices continued to rise. Lenders are less willing to take risks in the aftermath of the mortgage loan problem that surfaced in the United States eight months ago.

While some developing countries are cutting back, oil exporting nations are reaping windfall profits from the quadrupling of oil prices in the past five years. World Bank president Zoellick wants some of that oil wealth to be invested in Africa.

"The allocation of even one percent of the assets of sovereign wealth funds [investment funds, many of which are based in the Middle East] to equity investments in Africa could draw $30 billion to African development, growth and opportunity," he said.

The IMF and World Bank also called for more supervision of financial markets and a successful conclusion of the latest round of global talks aimed at removing barriers to trade.