Soaring food prices could trigger a global catastrophe and the world's poor need action, not words, from this week's UN food security summit human rights activists and the World Bank said on Monday. The warning came as world leaders arrived in Rome for a global conference to tackle a food crisis that is pushing 100 million people into hunger, provoking food protests and could aggravate violence in war zones.
"The current food crisis amounts to a gross violation of human rights and could fuel a global catastrophe, as many of the world's poorest countries, particularly those forced into import dependency, struggle to feed their people," said Johannesburg-based poverty campaign group ActionAid. "It is an outrage that poor people are paying for decades of policy mistakes such as the lack of investment in agriculture and the dismantling of support for smallholder farmers," said ActionAid analyst Magdalena Kropiwnicka.
Poor harvests, low stocks and rising demand, especially from India and China, caused huge food price spikes over the last two years, stoking protests, strikes and violence in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that increased hunger caused by the price spikes will exacerbate conflict in war zones and experts say food riots could worsen if nothing is done. "Our estimate is that higher food prices are pushing 30 million Africans into hunger," World Bank chief Robert Zoellick told Reuters in Rome, adding that the message he had received from Africans is that they were tired of talk and wanted action. "We have got a lot of world leaders here, let's try to focus on what we can do in real time to make a difference," said Zoellick, who last week announced $1.2 billion in loans and grants to help poor countries cope with food and fuel costs.
He said immediate action was needed to deliver aid to the countries most at risk, and that we should send poor farmers seeds and fertilisers and lift the export bans that are driving up prices.