High Food Prices Threaten Poorest: World Bank

WASHINGTON – Food prices near record peaks and volatility in commodity markets are driving the lives of the world’s poorest people to the edge of survival, the World Bank warned on Monday. Global food prices in July were 33% higher than a year ago, while oil prices were up 45%, driving up the price of fertilizers, the development lender said in a quarterly report.

“Persistently high food prices and low food stocks indicate that we’re still in the danger zone, with the most vulnerable people the least able to cope,” World Bank president Robert Zoellick said in a statement.

“Vigilance is vital given the uncertainties and volatility that exists today. There is no cushion.”

According to the bank’s latest Food Price Watch report, prices that are now near the record highs of 2008 have been a major contributor to the emergency in the Horn of Africa.

Over the last three months, reportedly 29,000 children under five have died in Somalia and 600,000 children in the region remain at risk in the crisis threatening the lives of more than 12 million people, the World Bank said.

“Nowhere are high food prices, poverty and instability combining to produce tragic suffering more than in the Horn of Africa,” Zoellick said, noting the bank was stepping up short-term help through safety nets to the poor and the vulnerable in places like Kenya and Ethiopia.

The 187-nation lender said it was providing $686 million to save lives, improve social protection, and spur economic recovery and drought resilience for people in the Horn of Africa.

Zoellick, who has repeatedly urged the Group of 20 major economies this year to make the food crisis a top priority, said more funds were urgently needed for the region.

Of the total resources committed so far — $1.03 billion — $870 million have been assigned to emergency efforts, with the remainder dedicated to longer-term objectives.

An estimated additional $1.45 billion is needed, the bank said.