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World Food Crisis Worsening

Increasing food prices have sparked protests in five African nations and several more countries worldwide. United Nations officials are warning that food prices are likely to keep rising. Humanitarians worry about the effect on lives, while some terrorism experts caution about an increase in violence and a situation ripe for terrorism recruitment. VOA's Carolyn Presutti explains the connection.

One sees the faces of the hungry in many areas of the world, where food costs too much to afford.

The United Nation's World Food Program says at least 850 million people worldwide are hungry. Executive Director Josette Sheeran says, “The world's misery index is rising to a silent tsunami that respects no borders - most don't know what hit them."

In Somalia, the price of the food staple sorghum has doubled since February.

Peter Smerdon of the World Food Program predicts the rising prices will push poor people into destitution or even death. "We may have to cut rations or cut the number of people that we feed in Somalia because of these increased costs," he said.

The World Bank says wheat prices have increased 120 percent over the past year. The Peruvian defense minister says his country copes by making potato bread.

"Wheat isn't produced here; it's imported and every day it costs more," explains Peruvian Defense Minister Antero Flores-Araoz. "With the potato mixed into the bread, we try to avoid, to control as much as possible, the cost of the bread."

"Poor people in Yemen are now spending more than a quarter of their incomes just on bread before they pay for other essential foods for their children, let alone basic healthcare or shelter," Robert Zoellick, with the World Bank said.

In Asia, the military guards are precious cargo. The price of rice, the staple for Asian countries, has tripled since January. Prices in Thailand surged to a record high on Thursday, 24 April.

The hungry are driven to desperate acts, as desperation becomes the substitute for food. In Haiti, there has been violence. In Egypt, the same.

Professor Vanda Felbab-Brown of Georgetown University says world hunger threatens global security. "Anti-American groups such as al-Qaida will be able to mobilize marginalized, frustrated populations that are especially affected by the food crisis," noted Brown.

Some terrorism experts say al-Qaida will blame Western countries for the lack of food, then use modern technology for recruitment.

Jan Lane is with the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. “People aren't pushed into radical ideology," she says. "They are pulled into rebellion through those social networks."

Lane says the U.S. and its allies need to counter the radical ideas with long-term solutions. "It's not an American [public relations] campaign,” she said. “It's not an American image campaign. We have to offer and encourage alternative visions and hopes and dreams for these youth to come forward. How can we work to insure they can have an alternative future, other than one that pulls them into extremism."

Lane says global counter-action needs to start now before the deepening food crisis worsens. The U.N. is already predicting that more than 100 million additional people could be plunged into hunger and malnutrition because of the crisis.