01/04/2008, 00.00
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Bangladesh needs rice

According to army Chief General Moeen U Ahmed the country is facing a real crisis as a result of higher rice prices. Half a million tonnes are needed right away, but donor countries have responded with scepticism, urging the Bangladesh government to use its foreign currency reserves to buy wheat.

Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Bangladesh is facing a catastrophe over rice supplies. Sounding the alarm, the chief of the Bangladesh army General Moeen U Ahmed said he was "very concerned" about the spiralling food prices, which in some cases have doubled over the last year.

Rice is the staple diet of most Bangladeshis, but this year’s crops have been damaged by natural disaster.

General Ahmed also blamed the global market for the price increase, especially India, for raising prices from US$ 425 a tonne to US$ 500 a tonne.

Another factor is the higher cost of transportation which is more difficult as a result of monsoon-related damages and the aftermath of November's cyclone.

Eyewitnesses talk about thousands of poor people queuing up at numerous stalls (see photo) set up by the authorities to sell rice at a subsidised rate of 25 taka (US$ 0.36) per kg.

Government officials yesterday met representatives from the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to discuss ways to procure 500,000 tonnes of rice.

Dhaka made the same request to donor countries in late November, saying that it would secure another 500,000 on its own. The country’s total deficit per year is almost three million tonnes.

Donor countries have so far responded with scepticism. Assistance of such scale normally takes place in cases of humanitarian emergencies. Most add that they have not received any precise estimates as to actual needs.

They told Bangladesh to buy wheat using its foreign currency reserve or through new loans from international agencies.

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