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UN food lines will grow

The UN food agency expects to feed around a third more hungry people next year, as the global financial crisis adds to the pressure of high food prices on poor nations, a top official said Oct. 15.

Sheila Sisulu, deputy executive director at the UN World Food Program (WFP), said an increase of around 30 million in the number the agency helps would offset a decline in food and fuel costs.

WFP is providing aid to some 90 million people in 2008, and plans to widen assistance to the newly poor in urban areas who have been hit hard by food inflation in the past two years.

“If those people now lose their jobs as a result of the financial crisis, then we will see the effect again possibly in insecurity in some countries – riots and so forth,” Sisulu told Reuters ahead of a conference on hunger organized by aid agency Concern Worldwide.

“We will see the effect of the financial crisis on the village road.”

People who have survived on money sent by relatives working overseas are also likely to need help as tough economic times translate into fewer jobs and lower remittances, Sisulu said.

As a result, the agency expects to request the same level of funding from donors in 2009, she said. Earlier this year, soaring food and energy prices forced WFP to double its budget to close to $6 billion.

International food prices have since declined, partly due to the slowing world economy. They fell to a nine-month low in September but were still 51 per cent higher than two years ago, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Sisulu said the impact of the global food crisis would deepen just when it was slipping down the agenda.

“I think it will get worse – less as a direct correlation of the financial crisis but more because people are getting complacent,” she said. “Just because it’s off the headlines, people think it’s gone.”

But in the coming months, countries where crops have failed, such as Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, will need increased food aid.

Recently, WFP said the number of Zimbabweans facing severe food shortages would rise from more than two million to five million early next year, before the next harvest.

The agency appealed for $140 million to provide food rations there over the next six months. It warned that without fresh contributions, it would run out of stocks in January, just when the need was greatest.

Sisulu said she hoped donors would understand the urgency of the situation at a time when global financial turmoil could start to have a domino effect in poor countries.

“If you take southern Africa, we are entering the lean season. Anybody who loses their job now loses the planting time, and that will add pressure to those numbers like in Zimbabwe,” she said.

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