WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) — Rising food prices are at a dangerous level, and global cooperation is needed to tackle the increasingly challenging issue, World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said on Tuesday.
Global food prices “threaten tens of millions of poor people around the world,” Zoellick told reporters at a teleconference here in Washington. “Now food security is a global security issue. ”
According to data released by the Washington-based international financial institution, rising food prices have driven an estimated 44 million people into poverty in developing countries since last June as food costs continue to rise to near 2008 levels.
The latest edition of Food Price Watch, a research publication by the World Bank, showed that its food price index rose by 15 percent between October 2010 and January 2011. It is 29 percent above its level a year earlier and only 3 percent below its 2008 peak.
The World Bank chief called for the international community to be aware of the risks and set the food security issue on the top agenda of the coming G20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in Paris this weekend.
“The price hike is already pushing millions of people into poverty, and putting stress on the most vulnerable, who spend more than half of their income on food,” Zoellick said.
The World Bank reported that among grains, global wheat prices have risen the most, doubling between June 2010 and January 2011. Maize prices are about 73 percent higher, but crucially for many of the world’s poor, rice prices have increased at a slower rate than other grains. Sugar and edible oils have also gone up sharply. Other food items essential for dietary diversity in many countries have increased, such as vegetables in India and China, and beans in some African countries.
According to Food Price Watch, the increase in extreme poverty (under U.S. 1.25 dollars a day) due to the price hike is associated with higher malnutrition, as poorer people eat less and are forced to buy food that is both less expensive and less nutritious.
In a December 2008 report, the bank’s economists estimated that 105 million people had been pushed into extreme poverty, at the time fixed at one dollar a day per person.
The bank cited that in contrast to the 2008 food price spike, two factors have prevented even more people falling into poverty this time. One is that good harvests in many African countries have kept prices stable, especially for maize, a key staple. Another is the fact that the increases in global rice prices have been moderate and the outlook for the rice market appears stable.
The bank said its Global Food Crisis Response Program is helping some 40 million people in need through 1.5 billion dollars in support.