U.N. aid chief worried by food inflation, weather

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes addresses the media during a news conference for the launch of the Humanitarian Appeals for 2008 at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva, December 10, 2007. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Rising food prices and extreme weather are sparking more humanitarian disasters around the world, the United Nations’ top official for emergency relief warned on Tuesday.

Fourteen out of 15 U.N. “flash appeals” for help last year were a response to devastation caused by droughts, floods and hurricanes, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said.

“That is five more than in any other year,” Holmes said during a visit to European Union headquarters in Brussels.

“We are seeing them (disasters) increase in intensity and number,” he told a news conference, saying weather events could not always be directly linked with climate change.

Holmes cited growing demand for food in China and India, a shift towards more meat-oriented diets and the use of foodstuffs in biofuels as driving what he called a structural change in food prices that put some staples beyond the reach of the poor.

A recent rise in wheat flour prices in Afghanistan had hit poor people hard, and similar humanitarian consequences of food price inflation were feared in Pakistan and Bangladesh, he said.

“This poses a double challenge for the World Food Program. Not only is the price increasing but the need is going up because of the hunger,” he said.

The U.N. body is overseeing an international target of halving the proportion of hungry people in the world.

Reporting by Mark John; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa