23 April 2008
Rising prices are putting food beyond the reach of more people and affecting places where food insecurity has not been an issue. Tendai Maphosa reports for VOA from London that the World Food Program says that also means African countries that were already vulnerable need a lot more help.
The World Food Program is active in almost 40 sub-Saharan African countries. The U.N. agency's Greg Barrow says more people are under threat of being priced out of the food market as most of the countries are food importers.
Barrow says governments importing food pass on the high cost to consumers and this has led to unrest in some countries.
"We have seen this particularly in a number of West African countries that have to import food. Places like Mauritania [and] Senegal where there is a high level of rice consumption and this leads to frustration," he said.
Barrow also noted that high food prices have changed the profile of those threatened by hunger, not only in Africa, but globally.
"The World Food Program has most of its work concentrated in rural areas," he said. "We are finding in urban areas where consumers had been perhaps a little bit better protected because they often earn slightly more than their neighbors who live in the poor areas of the countryside, they are finding that those people who might spend 60, 70 or even 80 percent of their earnings on food needs are being hit particularly hard."
Because the World Food Program also has to buy the food from exporting countries, it is not immune to price hikes. Barrow said the agency's programs and projects in Africa are still on track.
"In Africa we have not had to make any cuts yet, but if we do not get a significant increase in our funding by the middle of this year then that is the point at which we have to seriously consider cutting rations or cutting programs," said Barrow.
However, on Tuesday, the organization said its available food, for Rwanda for example, was able to feed 40 percent fewer people than last June.
Donor governments and organizations have responded to the WFP's appeals with additional funds. On Tuesday, the European Commission announced another $185 million in food aid to cushion the impact of soaring prices.
The United States, which according to the World Food Program provides about 50 percent of all global food aid, has responded with an additional $200 million to help ease the crisis.
European Union Development Commissioner Louis Michel described the rise in basic food prices as an emerging worldwide humanitarian disaster.