NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The economic crisis is pushing the world’s hungriest people to the wall, but a fraction of the cost of financial rescue packages could make a huge difference, the head of the U.N.’s World Food Program said Tuesday.
“I don’t think it is just an issue of compassion, it is an issue of global peace and security,” WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran told Reuters in an interview.
If countries already suffering from the effects of high food prices do not get help now, there could be more instability and food riots around the world in 2009, perhaps on an even bigger scale than before, she said.
“Globally, hunger is on a march,” said Sheeran, visiting India for the first time to combat malnutrition there.
“The food crisis itself has hit the world harder than I would have ever expected,” she added. “We expect the financial crisis will add to the pressure on the world’s most vulnerable.”
Sheeran, whose organization will feed nearly 100 million of the world’s hungriest people this year, appealed to the United States and Europe to set aside just one percent of the cost of financial rescue packages to combat global hunger.
That amount would fully fund the WFP budget next year and make a big contribution to what Sheeran says should be one of mankind’s big ideas -- “that no child goes to school hungry.”
“We need to send a bold signal of hope to the world with a human rescue package,” she said. “As we take care of Wall Street and Main Street, we can’t forget the places that have no streets.”
The WFP will start 2009 needing $5.2 billion to feed the hungry urgently in places like Ethiopia, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Afghanistan and North Korea. Without a rapid injection of funds, millions will run out of help by March when warehouses empty.
Rising food and fuel prices have already hit the poorest and hungriest hard. The Food and Agriculture Organization said in June that 75 million more people had been pushed into hunger as a result.
Last week it added 40 million people to that list, meaning there are almost one billion hungry in total -- nearly one sixth of humanity.
Governments which subsidize food and fuel prices have been left in dire fiscal straits, with no room to rescue their most vulnerable people. Remittances and exports are now falling and pressures are mounting.
“What this means to me is that the world needs to really step up to the plate for what would be a difficult few years for the world’s most vulnerable,” Sheeran said.
“I don’t hear any disagreement that this is critical, the question will be again, since we are voluntarily funded, will the world respond?”