Global food crisis likely to worsen

By Oxfam

Concerted action is needed urgently to prevent hundreds of millions of people from slipping into hunger as a result of volatile food prices and increasing energy and water scarcity, said international agency Oxfam today, on the opening day of a UN conference in Madrid to address the issue.

In a new report released today, A Billion Hungry People, Oxfam warned that decades of underinvestment in agriculture coupled with the increasing impact of climate change mean that future food security is by no means guaranteed, and in fact the situation could get worse. The report details the threats to global food security and exposes the lack of adequate coordinated international action to tackle hunger.

"A billion people around the world—one in every six—suffer chronic hunger today, and it could get worse with the economic crisis, climate change, and energy and water scarcity," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. "Coordinated action that addresses immediate needs and begins to implement long-term reforms must be launched to prevent millions more people falling into hunger."

At the height of the global food crisis, in the summer of 2008, the US Congress enacted a $1.2 billion emergency package to provide immediate food assistance, as well as longer-term support for agriculture and development. However, as the food crisis has been pushed off the front pages by the financial crisis and other issues, there is a risk that political support and financial assistance will wane.

Oxfam noted that President Barack Obama declared in his inaugural address: "To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds," and hopes his words will be quickly turned into action.

Food prices on international markets have eased in recent few months, however, the food crisis is far from over in many countries. For example, five million people are acutely affected by the food crisis in Afghanistan alone, a country particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in global prices as the country’s agricultural production has dropped by half as a result of war, displacement of people, persistent drought and flooding. The cost of cereal in Ethiopia remains drastically higher than at this time last year and in Kenya, 10 million people are at risk of food shortages, caused by a combination of drought, high food prices, and the effect of post-election violence in early 2008. Seven out of 11 provinces in Mozambique face acute food problems because of poor harvests. And in Zimbabwe, five million people, almost half the country’s population, are dependent on food aid.

"Not enough has been done to tackle the situation and there is a lack of coordination at all levels among humanitarian agencies," said Offenheiser. "International institutions must work together with donors to provide systematic emergency assistance and longer term support to those in need."

The report outlines recommendations for reform of the humanitarian aid system and makes a strong call to poor countries to invest more in agriculture and make food security a guiding principal to growth and development. Developing countries must increase social protection measures for vulnerable populations—including cash payments and employment creation schemes for those at risk of hunger. Oxfam called on rich countries to ensure long-term predictable funding to developing countries to enable these transformations.

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