28 April, 2008

The ‘silent tsunami’

Analysis being carried out by WFP supports World Bank estimates that about 100 million people have been pushed deeper into poverty by the high food prices.

The head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) called for urgent action to tackle the “silent tsunami” of rising food prices which threatens to push more than 100 million people worldwide into hunger.

“This is the new face of hunger – the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, after addressing a British parliamentary.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has said that high food prices are creating the biggest challenge that WFP has faced in its 45-year history, a silent tsunami threatening to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger.

“The response calls for large-scale, high-level action by the global community, focused on emergency and longer-term solutions,” she said.

Malaysia's embattled prime minister is already under pressure over the price hikes and has launched a major rice growing project. Indonesia's government needed to revise its annual budget to respond.

Malaysia's prime minister has announced plans to increase food security by growing rice on a massive scale in a state on Borneo island amid fears of shortages caused by the global food crisis.

The US$1.29 billion allocated for the plan will also be used to increase cultivation of fruits and vegetables, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced.

Thailand has no plans to restrict rice exports and the country will meet all export commitments, Wichianchot Sukchotrat, a Thai government spokesman said here last Thursday.

Malaysia and Thailand held talks on food security and Malaysia is seeking assurances that its orders for 480,000 tonnes of rice from its neighbour, the world's top rice exporter, will be delivered as planned.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's government is planning to subsidize locally-grown rice to prevent consumers from being hit by record high prices of the staple food in the world, a Cabinet minister said Monday.

"The main priority is that the government wants to assure the lower income group that local rice will remain affordable to them," Shahrir Samad, the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs minister, told reporters.

Malaysia grows about 65 to 70 percent of the rice its people consume, while the rest is imported, mainly from Thailand. With the price of Thai rice nearly tripling in the last 18 months, the government expects consumers to switch to local rice, whose price — so far steady — is expected to rise.

The government currently does not subsidize local rice but provides free fertilizer and other concessions to farmers to ensure the price remains under control. In 2007, the government spent more than 900 million ringgit on these concessions.

"At the moment there is no rice subsidy. We just control the price. But that (subsidy) will come," he said. However, imported rice will not be subsidized.

"We can't say that we must have Thai rice at lower prices than what the Thai themselves have," Shahrir said.

He said the new rice subsidies might be funded by the money saved by a planned reduction of fuel subsidies.



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