focus on High food prices at g8 summit

TOYAKO - The international community must act without delay to ease the plight of tens of millions of people suffering under soaring global food prices, the heads of the United Nations and the World Bank said yesterday.

TOYAKO - The international community must act without delay to ease the plight of tens of millions of people suffering under soaring global food prices, the heads of the United Nations and the World Bank said yesterday.

A preliminary World Bank study released last week estimated that up to 105 million people could drop below the poverty line because of rising food prices, including 30 million in Africa.

"High food prices are already turning back the clock on development gains," UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said.

Grain prices have more than doubled since January last year, with 60 percent of the rise occurring this year.

"To halt further suffering we are calling on world leaders to deliver a full range of immediate needs, including food assistance, fertiliser and other inputs for this year's planting cycle," Ki-moon told a news conference on the first day of the annual summit of the Group of Eight rich nations.

World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who also attended yesterday's talks on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, said there was an urgent need for R78 billion to provide food and cash hand-outs for the poorest, and for farming inputs in time for the next growing season.

"To solve this problem, we don't need a scientific breakthrough," Zoellick told the news conference. "What we need now is resources, actions and results in real time."

With oil prices at record highs above R1000 a barrel, the world's poor faced a double jeopardy.

He said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete had told him that many farmers in the southern African country could not afford to plant more to take advantage of high crop prices because the cost of fertiliser had jumped sixfold.

Ki-moon said the drive to reach eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the UN General Assembly to reduce world poverty by 2015 was also being hampered by global warming.

"We tend to think of climate change as something in the future," he said. "It is not. We see now, most of all in Africa, that drought and changing weather patterns are compounding the challenges we face in attaining the MDGs.".

He urged the G8 to send a strong political signal by setting a long-term goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, backed by intermediate targets that would set market forces in train to reduce energy consumption.

"Our efforts so far have been too divided, too sporadic and too little," Ban said of the response to interlocking problems facing policy makers.

A different approach was needed.

"We must take an investment approach," the UN chief said.

"Every dollar, euro or yen invested today as well as every ounce of effort is worth 10 tomorrow and 100 the day after." - Reuters

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