04/14/2008, 00.00
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100 million at risk of poverty: danger of famine and war in poor countries

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund raise the alarm: the rise in food prices is reducing entire populations to hunger. Without immediate aid, there are risks of public protests and armed conflict. Over the long term, help must be given to small farmers.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) - More than 100 million people in poor countries risk falling back into misery, on account of the rapid rise in staple food prices. Robert Zoellick, head of the World Bank, is raising the alarm and proposing immediate intervention and a long-term plan to foster agricultural production.

According to official data, from March of 2007 to March of 2008 the price of wheat increased by 130%, soya by 87%, rice by 74%, and maize by 31%.  The causes indicated include the rise in demand, bad weather conditions in many countries, and greater use of arable land for the production of plants for biofuels.  The rise in food prices in general has been 83% over three years.

These increases have caused popular protests in many countries, including Egypt, the Philippines, and Indonesia, and it is feared that these can only increase and become more violent, since the run-up in prices does not appear to be stopping.  In recent months, large rice exporters (India, China, Vietnam, and Egypt) have stopped their sales abroad, to the harm of the major importers like Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Afghanistan.

On April 12, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said that hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of hunger, and that "as we know, learning from the past, those kind of questions sometimes end in war". The two agencies maintain that this problem is no less serious than the financial crisis striking the industrialised countries.

Zoellick maintains that it is urgent to "put out money where our mouth is now so that we can put food into hungry mouths". He says that more food aid must be given to poor countries, and at least 500 million dollars must be given in the short term to the World Food Programme. But he says that it is also necessary to design aid policies for small farmers in poor countries.

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