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Asia risks ‘silent famine’ as food prices soar, WFP cautions

Asia risks ‘silent famine’ as food prices soar, WFP cautions
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First Published: Mon, Apr 21 2008. 10 36 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Apr 21 2008. 10 36 PM IST
Singapore/Hong Kong: A“silent famine” risks emerging in some Asian countries where food prices including rice are escalating beyond the reach of the poorest people, the World Food Program (WFP) warned.
“There is food on the counters and on the shelves in stores but there is a certain population that cannot afford that food,” Paul Risley, a spokesman for the United Nations agency, said on Monday. “There’s a risk of a silent famine.” Record prices for rice and wheat are ratcheting up the cost to aid agencies of providing relief, Risley said from Bangkok. UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon said on Sunday that rising food costs may hurt economic growth and threaten political security.
“In Asia, supply is not the main constraint, but the huge price increases are,” said Rajat Nag, managing director at the Asian Development Bank. “That has a very massive impact on the poor and we need to focus on the huge price increases.”
Rice futures on the Chicago Board of Trade, which have more than doubled in the past year, traded near a record on Monday amid concern export curbs by producing nations will crimp global supplies. The July contract gained as much as 2.3% to $24.615 (Rs982) per 100 pounds on the Chicago Board of Trade. The contract, which was at $24.10 at 10:34 am in London, touched a high of $24.67 on 18 April.
“We find we can’t buy as much rice as we thought we would be able to buy,” Risley said in an interview with Bloomberg T elevision. The agency feeds 28 million of the poorest Asians in 14 countries.
Indonesia, the world’s third largest rice producer, will hold back surplus rice from export this year to bolster domestic stockpiles. China, Egypt, India and Vietnam have also restricted exports of the food that’s the staple for half the world’s population.
Households in poorer countries spend a larger share of their income on food compared with those in richer nations, magnifying the impact of costlier rice, wheat and meat on family budgets, says the US department of agriculture.
An average household in India spent 32% of its income on food last year compared with 6% for a household in the US, department data shows. The figure for Indonesia was 43%, and 36% for the Philippines.
The World Bank has forecast that 33 nations from Mexico to Yemen may face social unrest because of higher food and energy costs. Crude oil rose above $117 a barrel for the first time in New York on Monday after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries rejected calls for higher output.
Bloomberg
Leslie Tan in Singapore contributed to this story.
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First Published: Mon, Apr 21 2008. 10 36 PM IST