April 29, 2008 / 8:47 AM / 11 years ago

U.N. sets up task force to tackle food crisis

BERNE (Reuters) - U.N. agencies and the World Bank will set up a task force on food to deal with the unprecedented rise in global food prices, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

“We consider that the dramatic escalation in food prices worldwide has evolved into an unprecedented challenge of global proportions that has become a crisis for the world’s most vulnerable, including the urban poor,” the U.N. said.

“The challenge is having multiple effects with its most serious impact unfolding as a crisis for the most vulnerable,” it said in a statement after a meeting of U.N. agency heads in the Swiss capital, Berne, to chart a solution to food price rises that have caused hunger, riots and hoarding in poor countries.

Higher costs of wheat, rice, and other staples have put extreme pressure on aid providers such as the World Food Programme, a U.N. agency aiming to feed 73 million people this year.

The World Bank said in statement it was considering setting up a rapid financing facility to help poor and fragile countries in particular and provide quicker, more flexible financing for others.

The bank will double its lending for agriculture in Africa over the next year to $800 million, it said.

“Though we have seen wheat prices fall over the last few days, rice and corn prices are likely to remain high, and wheat relatively so,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick told a journalists.

Zoellick and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on countries not to ban food exports, since this would make the problem worse.

“We are urging countries not to use export bans. These controls encourage hoarding, drive up prices and hurt the poorest people around the world who are struggling to feed themselves,” Zoellick said.

Besides the short-term emergency response, the international community must focus on longer-term solutions including efforts to bolster the world trading system, Zoellick said.

“The emergency is critical, but we can’t stop there. We have to work with these other pieces,” he said.

World Trade Organisation Director-General Pascal Lamy said the crisis was another urgent reason to conclude the Doha round of trade talks to open up world trade.

The round, launched in 2001, is liberalise trade in food and other goods and services by cutting tariffs and subsidies.

“I believe that today’s call for action under the auspices of the U.N. secretary-general can help WTO members gather the necessary political energy in order to help developing countries to increase their food production capacity,” Lamy said.

Editing by Jonathan Lynn

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