Emergency food stocks maintained by countries around the world are at their lowest levels in 30 years, contributing to the surge in global food prices, the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) said Thursday.
The situation has put the WFP and relief organizations in a difficult situation to meet the needs of the world's most vulnerable populations, said WFP director Josette Sheeran from her Rome-based headquarters.
WFP, which had an annual budget of 3.1 billion dollars, has urged donors to provide an additional 500 million dollars in 2008 so it can meet demands in poor countries, where the prohibitive cost of food has prompted riots and threatened people with starvation, the dpa reported.
"I call this a new phase of hunger because millions of people, who were not in the urgent category six months ago, have been pushed into that category, and we are seeing people, who are already vulnerable, who are now at great risk of malnutrition," she said.
The people threatened with malnutrition including children and pregnant women.
Sheeran cited the needs of Iraqi refugees, including those in Syria, as well as requests by Afghanistan, Haiti and Sudan's Darfur region. The Afghan government alone asked for 700 million dollars in food aid in 2008.
The spikes in food prices in recent months have added 100 million people to the category of people living on less than 2 dollars a day around the world, which had been estimated at nearly 1 billion people.
Sheeran said the WFP has been forced spend 40 per cent more to buy the same amount of food for those in need. WFP normally provide food aid to 80 million to 90 million people a year.
The World Bank this month said global food prices have risen 83 per cent in the last three years. Wheat prices worldwide have jumped 120 per cent in the last year alone.
Sheeran said the hunger is provoking instability, which has happened in 30 countries where food riots had been documented in recent months. The 40 countries that usually export food have restricted their exports because of the risk to their stocks, which has in turn aggravated conditions in importing countries.
Sheeran said hunger has spread to urban areas in some countries and people have changed their diets to adjust to the higher costs.
Even in the United States, two of the largest supermarket chains - Wal-Mart subsidiary Sam's Club and Costco - have begun restricting sales of rice to prevent hoarding by restaurant owners worried about the continuing rise in prices.
The Italian government donated on Wednesday 3.5 million dollars to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in New York. The donation is to boost UN capability to provide food aid.