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WFP says High Food Prices Affecting Every Continent

The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) said today that high food prices are creating the biggest challenge the agency has faced in its 45-year history, describing it as a silent tsunami that threatens to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger. Tendai Maphosa attended a press conference by the WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran in London and filed this report for VOA.

Josette Sheeran, is in London for a meeting of food producers, retailers and consumers hosted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. She says recent violent unrest in Haiti and 33 other countries shows that food insecurity threatens not only the hungry but peace and security as well.

The increases, she says, have forced the WFP to cut back on food handouts to the poor.

"Those living on less than a dollar a day or 50 cents a day have no place to retreat in the face of food prices that have increased and often doubled during the past six months," Sheeran said. "The World Food Program is literally able to procure dramatically less food than it was even last June, for the same contribution."

The price rises, Sheeran added, are producing what she describes as the 'new face of hunger' - those who have been priced out of the food market. Included in this group are the rural landless, herders and the majority of small-scale farmers. But, the U.N. agency says the impact is greatest on the urban poor.

The World Food Program has been asking for more money from donor governments, but Sheeran says its appeals are finding it difficult to keep up with the price surges.

"On February 25 we announced that the gap in our budget was $500 million, just due to the soaring prices to our base budget of $2.5 billion. Since that time that gap has risen to $755 million," Sheeran said. "So we are putting out an urgent appeal for the world to help us meet not only our base budget to meet the accessed needs of people from Darfur to Uganda to Haiti and beyond, but also to meet this gap."

The United States, which according to the World Food Program provides about 50 percent of all global food aid, has responded by announcing an additional $200 million in aid to help ease the crisis. The British, Spanish and German governments have also announced more aid.

Sheeran says the world should take the rising prices as a wake-up call for long-term investment that could solve the problem of food supply. She says small-scale farmers who often struggle to produce enough food for their families need help with materials to grow food.

She gave the example of farmers in the Rift Valley in Kenya who are planting less because the price of fertilizer has more than doubled since last December.