Washington - Responding aggressively to a worsening global food crisis, President Bush has ordered an estimated $200 million in emergency U.S. food assistance for global relief efforts and to help relieve political instability in some regions.
"This additional food aid will address the impact of rising commodity prices on U.S. emergency food aid programs, and be used to meet unanticipated food aid needs in Africa and elsewhere," the White House said in a statement.
Bush directed Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer April 14 to draw the funds from the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, which is a food reserve for emergency needs in the developing world, to meet global emergency needs abroad. "With this action, an estimated $200 million in emergency food aid will be made available through the U.S. Agency for International Development," the White House said.
The response began early April 14 at the president's regular White House Cabinet meeting with his most senior national security advisers after he expressed significant concern about the deepening crisis, which not only threatens lives but is also the reason for worsening civil violence.
"We are in a process right now of looking at ways to meet some of the ongoing food needs of certain countries beyond what has already been provided," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said April 14. "The president has raised the issue with his national security advisers and he's asked that the State Department and USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] look at what can be done in the near term."
The White House noted that the United States is the largest provider of general food aid, providing more than $2.1 billion for 2.5 million metric tons of commodities to 78 developing countries in 2007. "We are also the world's largest provider for emergency food assistance, delivering 1.5 million metric tons of emergency food aid valued at $1.2 billion to 30 countries in 2007," it said in a statement.
U.S. emergency food assistance helped almost 23 million people, the White House said.
"The United States Agency for International Development has sought to invest in agricultural production in developing countries as a major strategy for increased food availability. Working through local institutions and partners, USAID has introduced new policy and technology-adapting capabilities to address near- and longer-term issues," the White House statement says.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization attributes rising global food prices to a combination of factors, including reduced production because of climate change, historically low levels of food stocks, higher consumption of meat and dairy products in emerging economies, increased demand for biofuels production, drought and the higher cost of energy and transportation.
The price for a barrel of oil rose to $113 April 15 on world commodity markets. The price has risen 18 percent since the beginning of 2008.
Over the weekend, Group of Seven finance ministers and central bankers meeting in Washington called for immediate action to deal with the rising food prices.
"The problem is very serious around the world, due to severe price rises, and we have seen riots in Egypt, Cameroon, Haiti and Burkina Faso," says Jacques Diouf, director-general of the United Nations' Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "There is a risk that this unrest will spread in countries where 50 [percent] to 60 percent of income goes to food."
The FAO also has reported incidents of civil unrest in Indonesia, Côte d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Mozambique, Bolivia, Senegal, the Philippines and Uzbekistan over food prices.
On April 12 the Haitian Senate fired Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis after more than a week of food riots. The government of President René Préval had convinced rioters to end civil strife stemming from higher food prices, but not before rioters had looted government warehouses and used rocks to attack shops, according to news reports.
According to U.N. officials, the price of staples such as rice, beans, fruit and condensed milk has gone up 50 percent in the past year, while the cost of pasta has more than doubled in Haiti. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged donor countries to provide emergency aid.
"The rapidly escalating crisis of food availability around the world has reached emergency proportions. The World Bank has indicated that the doubling of food prices over the last three years could push 100 million people in low-income countries deeper into poverty," Ban said April 14 at a special meeting of the U.N. Economic and Social Council.
"The international community will also need to take urgent and concerted action in order to avert the larger political and security implications of this growing crisis," Ban said.
The Washington-based World Bank estimates that 33 countries face civil unrest because of rising food and energy prices. In March, the World Food Programme (WFP) launched an appeal for an additional $500 million to respond to dramatic increases in global food and fuel prices, which have risen by 55 percent since June 2007. The WFP says it has received only 13 percent, or $12.4 million, of the $96 million necessary to assist Haiti.
"The United States, the European Union, Japan and other OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries must act now to fill this gap -- or many more people will suffer and starve," World Bank President Robert Zoellick said in a recent speech. "Food policy needs to gain the attention of the highest political levels, because no one country or group can meet these interconnected challenges."
According to the World Bank, from early 2006 to early 2008 global wheat prices have risen at least 180 percent and have now risen more since then.
"This perfect storm has hit with a speed and intensity that very few predicted," Michael Usnick, director of U.S. relations at the World Food Programme, says.