The head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday called for urgent action to tackle the "silent tsunami" of rising food prices which threatens to push more than 100 million people worldwide into hunger.
"This is the new face of hunger - the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are," said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran, after addressing a British parliamentary hearing in London.
She said that like the 2004 tsunami, which hit the Indian Ocean leaving quarter of a million dead and about 10 million more destitute, the food price crisis - the biggest challenge WFP has faced in its 45-year history - requires a global response.
"The response calls for large-scale, high-level action by the global community, focused on emergency and longer-term solutions," she added.
Recalling the record $12 billion provided by the donor community for the tsunami recovery effort, Ms. Sheeran said "we need that same kind of action and generosity."
Stressing the role of partnerships in fighting the food "emergency," she said WFP has been working with donor governments, other UN agencies, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and other humanitarian actors, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to ensure a coordinated response.
The impact of the crisis is already being felt in different parts of the world. Unless new funding can be found on time, WFP will have to suspend school feeding to 450,000 children beginning in May in Cambodia.
In addition, protests and riots have broken out in some countries over the rising cost of many basic foods, such as rice, wheat and corn.
Addressing a gathering of trade and development officials in Ghana over the weekend, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged immediate steps to guarantee the world's food security, starting with ensuring that WFP has the additional $755 million it needs to cover the rising costs of its existing emergency operations.
In a related development, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick has welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's intention to put the food crisis on the agenda of the Group of Eight summit, to be held in Japan in July.