By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, May 5 (Reuters) - The United Nations has begun mobilizing its resources to combat the global food crisis and plans to propose long-term solutions to deal with its root causes, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday.
"Let me simply emphasize the gravity of the emergency and the need for an urgent response," Ban told reporters after returning from a trip to Africa and Europe, where rising food prices were a main topic of his meetings with top officials.
"The first thing I will do, back here in New York, will be to get our task force on the global food crisis moving at full speed," Ban said, adding that the task force would hold its first meeting next Monday.
Ban said his task force would study the underlying causes of the crisis and propose long-term solutions at a food summit in Rome next month, to which he hoped world leaders would come armed "with fresh ideas."
He has appointed his under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, John Holmes, to coordinate the U.N. efforts, with David Nabarro, the top U.N. official dealing with bird flu, as his deputy, Ban said.
The Asian Development Bank said on Monday that over 1 billion Asians may sink back into extreme poverty without extra aid to counter soaring food prices.
Ban also painted a bleak picture of what the crisis, which has led to rioting in developing countries across the globe, could do if it is not contained.
"If not properly handled, this crisis could cascade into multiple crises affecting trade, development and even social and political security around the world," he said. "The livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people are threatened."
Ban urged countries to look at the food crisis not just in terms of what should be done in the short term but to consider dealing with its root causes — such as trade practices that artificially increase prices.
Countries must "boost agricultural development, particularly in Africa and other regions most affected," he said. "I have called on leaders not to take measures that distort trade and push up prices."
It was also necessary to get seeds, fertilizer and other agricultural "inputs" to the world’s small farmers.
"This crisis did not come out of the blue," he said. "It grew out of more than a decade of neglect and ineffective development policy. We need a new start," he said. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman) (For a TAKE-A-LOOK on rising food prices, please double-click on nL03499222)