UN chief orders task force to tackle food crisis

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Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday ordered a top level task force to take on the global crisis caused by rising food prices.

April 29, 2008 - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday ordered a top level task force to take on the global crisis caused by rising food prices and urged key producer nations to end export bans.

   The UN chief said the immediate priority must be to "feed the hungry" and
called for urgent funding for the World Food Programme.

   Ban said after a meeting of the heads of 27 key international agencies that
the new task force would be led by the UN's top humanitarian official, deputy
under-secretary John Holmes.

   Ban urged countries such as Brazil and Egypt to drop export restrictions on
certain foods and commodities, saying they had reduced supplies and
contributed to price hikes.

   Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, India and Egypt have all imposed limitations on
the export of certain produce in order to ensure food security for their

   "Domestic policy measures that correct distortions and do not jeopardise
the supply response need to be put in place, together with budget support
measures and balance of payments support for the most affected countries," Ban said.

   His calls were echoed by World Trade Organisation director general, Pascal
Lamy, and World Bank head Robert Zoellick, who were both at the conference.

   "We urge countries not to use export bans. These controls encourage
hoarding, drive up prices and hurt the poorest people around the world,"
Zoellick said.

   He welcomed Ukraine's moves in lifting a restriction on wheat exports,
noting that it resulted in an immediate lowering of prices.

   Lamy described such restrictions on exports as "not good economic
solutions" in the short-term.

   "It's obvious that such measures would result in a further increase of
prices," he told AFP.

   One paradox of the food crisis is that many food exporters such as Brazil,
who have been at the forefront of calls for trade liberalisation in the WTO's
Doha round, are now adopting protectionist measures.

   Ban said the World Food Programme must be "urgently and fully" funded to
help poor countries.

   "Without full funding of these emergency requirements, we risk again the
spectre of widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an
unprecedented scale," Ban warned.

   The WFP has said it needs an extra 755 million dollars (484 million euros)
due to the sharp jump in prices.

   "We have pledges of 471 million, but only 18 million is cash in hand. We
can't procure food until we have cash in hand. So we're in a really urgent
timeframe to getting a commitment as soon as possible," WFP head Josette
Sheeran told journalists.

   In just one example of the scale of the problem, the WFP warned that
soaring rice prices have forced it to stop supplying free breakfasts to
450,000 poor Cambodian schoolchildren.

   The agency said the programme was suspended because it could not afford to
pay the current high prices for rice, which accounts for 76 percent of the
school breakfasts.

   In the long-term, the UN chief acknowledged that there is an "urgent
necessity to address structural and policy issues that have contributed to
this crisis as well as the challenge posed by climate change."

   "Further research must be undertaken on the impact of diversion of food
crops to bio-fuel production and all subsidies to bio-fuels should be
reviewed," he added.

   Meanwhile, the UN chief, who later travelled to Geneva, told a public forum
that the food crisis also offers an "opportunity" for the international

   "It is a huge chance to address the root problems of many of the world's
poorest people, 70 percent of whom live as small farmers.

   "If we help them -- if we offer aid and the right mix of sound local and
international policies -- the solutions will come," he said in Geneva.

   He added that if handled well, the solutions to the food crisis will also
promote the rest of the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

   "All are closely related," he said.


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