High Commissioner warns about impact of global food shortages

Briefing Notes, 8 April 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 April 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

High Commissioner António Guterres has expressed concern about the impact of global food shortages on the world's most impoverished people and has urged the international community to support a World Food Programme call for critical funds to address soaring food and fuel prices. Mr. Guterres made the call at the Progressive Governance summit hosted over the weekend by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

He asked those attending the summit to respond positively to a recent appeal by the World Food Programme. WFP issued an extraordinary emergency appeal to government donors on March 20, saying that due to soaring food and fuel prices it was facing a shortfall of some US$500 million in its efforts to feed 70 million people this year. Among those fed by WFP are millions of the world's refugees and internally displaced.

The UK meeting, gathering 12 centre-left world leaders and eight other key figures from the European Union and major international organizations, focused on how governments and global bodies such as UNHCR can help to combine economic progress and world trade with social justice. The threats posed by global climate change, rising energy prices and the related rise in food prices on impoverished communities worldwide were among the concerns of the leaders at the summit.

The High Commissioner's backing for WFP's appeal came just a day after rice prices rose more than 10 percent to a record high after key importers bought up available supplies.

Guterres called on participants, including summit founder and former US President Bill Clinton, World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, to bear in mind the impact of rising energy prices and economic uncertainly on developing countries, making communities emerging from conflict or just passing through precarious economic periods liable to new instability.

He said the biggest threat to progressive governments in the developing world today is the rise of food prices for urban populations and the danger of public opinion triggering social unrest. Clinton supported Guterres' appeal for food aid and said efforts to establish price stability were vital for people in the developing economies.

Their advocacy was included in the summit's final communiqué, which stressed that the food aid needs of less developed countries and humanitarian beneficiaries need to be met.