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Hunger Eclipsed by Financial Crisis on World Food Day

Phil Stewart

Pakistani children eat their lunch on the eve of the World Food Day in a slum in Karachi, Pakistan, on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008. World food security, the challenges of climate change and bioenergy are the themes of this year's World Food Day on October 16, the day that FAO was founded in Quebec City in 1945, and now observed annually in some 150 countries. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

ROME - The world's leading crusaders against hunger voiced
frustration on Thursday, World Food Day, that the global financial
crisis had overshadowed a food crisis tipping millions towards

The World Bank predicts that high food and fuel prices will increase
the number of malnourished people in the world by 44 million this year
to reach a total of 967 million.

Economists have also warned that the world's poor would be the most vulnerable to a global economic downturn.

"The media have highlighted the financial crisis at the expense of
the food crisis," said Jacques Diouf, head of the U.N.'s Food and
Agriculture Organisation in Rome. The World Food Programme's Executive
Director Josette Sheeran acknowledged that even citizens of wealthy
countries had been affected by high food prices and the financial

"But for those who live on less than a dollar a day, it's a matter of life and death," Sheeran said.

Proponents of more urgent measures questioned why the world's
richest nations could not show the same urgency to save people from
starvation as they did when rushing to rescue banks.

"My position is that the financial crisis is a serious one, and
deserves urgent attention and focus, but so is the question of hunger,
and millions (are) likely to die. Is that any less urgent?," asked
former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.


Pope Benedict said the blame for hunger could be directed at
"boundless speculation" in markets, partly blamed for high food and
fuel prices. But he also pointed to "selfishness" by the world's rich
and a poor distribution of resources.

A Senegal-based NGO said the fading attention to the food crisis showed a "problem of justice, of equity and solidarity."

"If they are able to raise funds for the banking system, they can
also find ways to reduce poverty in the world," Vore Gana Seck,
President of Dakar-based CONGAD (Council of NGOs Supporting
Development) told Reuters in the Senegalese capital.

"I think it's a problem of priority."

Prices of wheat, rice, maize and other staples in the developing
world have all risen dramatically this year, although they have fallen
from their peaks in recent months.

In Somalia, wheat prices have risen by 300 percent in the 15 months
to April. Maize prices in southern Africa have risen by anywhere
between 40 and 65 percent, crippling the ability of the poor to feed
themselves, said aid group Oxfam.

"It is shocking that the international community has failed to
organise itself to respond adequately" to the food and energy crisis,
said Barbara Stocking, the head of Oxfam.

"We need to see one coordinated international response, led by the
United Nations, which channels funds urgently to those in need, and
leads on implementation of the longer-term reforms."

Diouf said the world has the know-how to end hunger, even if the population climbs to a forecast 9 billion people by 2050.

But he complained that his U.N. agency lacked resources and said
that it only received 10 percent of the $22 billion (12.8 million
pounds) pledged in June, following food riots in some of the affected

"We have a serious shortfall in the financial resources needed to fulfill the expectations," Diouf said.

"In spite of the passionate speeches and financial commitments made
by many countries, only a tiny proportion of what was promised in June
has been delivered."

Additional reporting by Megan Rowling in Dublin, Pascal Fletcher in Dakar, Luke Baker in London


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