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US increases food aid as Philippines warns rice hoarders

First Posted 20:50:00 04/15/2008

WASHINGTON -- The United States promised $200 million to help poor nations combat the global food crisis amid mounting warnings over the impact.

With many governments fighting unrest over sky-rocketing prices, the Philippine government declared war on rice hoarders and appealed for US help to boost stocks.

As oil prices hit a new high of $112.78 a barrel, Bangladesh became the latest nation to see food protests and UNESCO said the inflation was forcing poor families take children out of schools and go to work to help pay for food.

The United States announced its emergency aid one day after the head of the World Bank warned in Washington that 100 million more people could be pushed into poverty because of the doubling of food prices in the past three years.

"This additional food aid will address the impact of rising commodity prices on US emergency food aid programs, and be used to meet unanticipated food aid needs in Africa and elsewhere," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

She said Washington would consider increasing the aid, adding that the money would be channeled through the US Agency for International Development.

Perino said earlier that President George W. Bush was "very concerned" about the prices phenomenon and "has raised the issue with his national security advisors, and he has asked State (Department) and USAID to look at what can be done in the near term."

Earlier, UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned that the food crisis could trigger political upheavals and security risks.

"The rapidly escalating crisis of food availability around the world has reached emergency proportions," he told a meeting of key UN financial, economic and trade institutions in New York.

Food protests have already been the cause of deadly protests in African countries such as Cameroon, Senegal and Mauritania and riots in Haiti and Indonesia.

"We need not only short-term emergency measures to meet urgent critical needs and avert starvation in many regions across the world, but also a significant increase in long-term productivity in food grain production," Ban told the meeting.

The Philippine government said the United States has agreed to sell 100,000 tons of rice to help bolster its government stocks. Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said in Manila that authorities were investigating alleged rice hoarding and speculation.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said: "Anyone caught stealing rice from the people must be thrown into jail."

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting on the rapid rise in rice prices, she added: "I am leading the charge to crack down on any form of corruption by public or private persons who would divert supplies or pervert the price of this essential commodity in any way."

At least 15,000 Bangladesh garment factory workers went on strike Tuesday to call for higher wages as food prices in the impoverished nation soar.

Bandladesh's garment industry, the leading export earner, saw dozens of factories idle at the Fatullah industrial zone south of Dhaka, police said.

UNESCO said in a statement ahead of the release of a major report on poverty, that since March 2007 prices for soya beans have risen 87 percent and for wheat 130 percent at a time when global grain stores are at their lowest levels on record.

It attributed the trend to increased demand in China and India as well as the alternative use of maize and soya beans for biofuels.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said increased prices are forcing children out of classrooms and into jobs to help pay for family food.

The impact of higher food prices is particularly marked in poor countries where 75 percent of a family's revenues go on food, compared to rich countries where just 15 percent of a household's income is spent on meals, UNICEF said.

A drop in school attendance is already being observed in Nepal, said World Food Program spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume.

In many countries, the only warm meal children get in a day is the meal served in school canteens. In Cambodia, the WFP has been forced to suspend food distribution to school canteens as local suppliers ended their contracts so they can sell elsewhere at a higher price.

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