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UN refugee agency chief concerned about global food shortages


UN refugee agency chief concerned about global food shortages

UNHCR chief Guterres expresses concern about food shortages for the neediest and urges support for World Food Programme's emergency funding appeal.
7 April 2008
A Burundian refugee shows some of her food allowance at a camp in Tanzania. Soaring food and fuel prices are affecting distribution of food aid to the neediest.

CHANDLER'S CROSS, United Kingdom, April 7 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has expressed concern about the impact of global food shortages on the world's most impoverished people and urged world leaders to support a World Food Programme call for critical funds to address soaring food and fuel prices.

"I ask you to respond positively to the dramatic appeal of the UN World Food Programme (WFP)," Guterres declared Saturday at the Progressive Governance summit, which was hosted by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown at a country house near London.

The 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.

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. The organization is charged with meeting the urgent hunger needs of the world's most vulnerable people, including refugees and the internally displaced.

Guterres called on participants at Saturday's meeting, 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.

"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," he told the assembly.

Clinton supported Guterres' appeal for food aid and said efforts to establish price stability were vital for people in the developing economies. "Rising prices of food aid are affected by the rising price of energy and risks destroying progress being made in less developed countries," Clinton declared.

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."

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, meanwhile, noted that displacement caused by climate change would not necessarily result in cross-border movements but she warned that global bodies must be better prepared to help states confront population flows.

The summit communiqué said it was "important to support states and institutions responding to climate-induced population displacement" and that "developing regions will suffer earliest and most severely, including through deforestation and threats to small island nations."

The communiqué also noted the need to support the United Nations and to provide adequate and timely funding for aid and peace-keeping efforts.

The next Progressive Governance summit will take place in Chile in 2009.

By Peter Kessler in Chandler's Cross, United Kingdom