U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he will head a new task force to tackle the global food crisis that is plunging tens of millions of people into poverty and hunger. He is calling for international donors to urgently fund a three-quarter-billion-dollar shortfall by the World Food Program. The appeal follows a two-day U.N.-sponsored meeting in the Swiss capital, Bern, aimed at finding measures to deal with soaring food prices. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says participants at the emergency meeting discussed concrete measures to feed the hungry. He says the dramatic escalation in food prices worldwide has evolved into an unprecedented challenge of global proportions. He says it has become a crisis for the world's most vulnerable, including the urban poor.
Mr. Ban says governments must urgently contribute $755 million to the World Food Program.
"Without full funding of these emergency requirements, we risk again the specter of widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale," he said. "We anticipate that additional funding will be required."
U.N. officials believe 100 million people have been driven into poverty and hunger because of skyrocketing food prices. The World Food Program says it cannot afford to buy food with the money it has. For example, it notes the price of a metric ton of rice has more than doubled since March.
WFP director Josette Sheeran says the agency has received $471 million in pledges.
"We only have 18 million of that cash in hand," said Sheeran. "And, so this becomes urgent because we cannot procure the food until we have the cash in hand and so we are bumping into a real urgent time frame of needing to get these commitments in as soon as possible so that we can keep these programs whole and we are getting stretched across the globe where we cannot do so."
World Bank President Robert Zoellick says this crisis will not be over once the emergency needs are addressed.
"The International Community needs to come in to working together to respond with policy initiatives so that this year's crisis does not become a generation's fact of life," he said. "Already, hunger and malnutrition are the underlying causes of death of over 3.5 million children every year, robbing the future potential of many millions more."
Increasing food prices are not the only problem afflicting the poor. The United Nations says farmers in developing countries are planting less and producing less because of the escalating cost of fertilizer and energy. It says efforts must be made to support these farmers.
The task force chaired by Secretary-General Ban will be made up of various heads of U.N. and international agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF and the World Bank. The group will explore ways to bring down the cost of food and increase agricultural production in poor countries.