Food Shortages Herald "New Era Of Hunger"

(CBS/AP) A third day of riots in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, had by Friday paralyzed the city with looting and violence.

The toll includes a U.N. soldier who has been shot and killed in the capital.

U.N. Mission spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe said the soldier was shot Saturday afternoon and that he was a member of a 1,000-strong unit that deals with riots.

She said U.N. troops did not exchange fire, but had no further details.

The demonstrations began earlier in the week, in protest against rising food prices, and turned into riots.

The looting has made access to food even more difficult, doing little to ease widespread hunger among Haitians.

Port-au-Prince hospitals were filled with people injured in the riots, being treated by volunteers from the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

Wagner Pierre, who works for Medecins Sans Frontieres, said many of the wounds they were seeing were a result of bullets.

"In the last 4 days we have received 160 wounded, 40 of which were from gun bullet wounds," said Wagner.

Many of the injured were bystanders caught in crossfire, like David Saint Felix, who was wounded in the leg during the protests.

"I was passing through the Haitian marine base looking for my brother who was in the protests, when I was hit with a bullet in my leg," said Saint Felix.

The fighting across the capital was punctuated with calls for the Haitian president's resignation.

This afternoon, a Haitian senator said that parliament has voted to dismiss Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis.

President Rene Preval announced a drop in the price of rice Saturday in a bid to defuse anger over rising food prices.

After meeting with food importers in the national palace, Preval said the price of a 50-pound bag of rice will drop from US$51 to US$43 - a reduction of 15.7 percent.

The Haitian president said the government will use international aid money to subsidize the price of rice and that the private sector has agreed to knock US$3 off the price of each bag. Preval did not say when the price reduction would go into effect.

Preval also said he would ask Venezuela for help, especially about providing fertilizer for struggling farmers.

The announcements come in the wake of looting and clashes between hundreds of protesters and U.N. peacekeepers earlier this week. Protesters blame the government for failing to create jobs and control soaring food prices and some demonstrators called for Preval's resignation. The violence left at least five people dead.

On Saturday, U.N. military commander Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz told The Associated Press that calm was returning across the country, with some transportation resuming and people going back to work.

The U.N. commander said that several social, economic and political changes are still needed in Haiti to maintain the present calm and address the increased cost of living. Cruz did not provide specifics.

"It is important for the people to have a peaceful life in Haiti," Santos Cruz said.

The U.S.-backed president has pledged to build up Haitian agriculture and make the country more self-sufficient.

But food prices have risen 40 percent globally since mid-2007.

Haiti, the poorest country in the northern hemisphere, has been hit especially hard because it imports nearly all of its food, and most people live on less than two U.S. dollars a day.

Haiti's food problems are, sadly, not isolated to the Caribbean nation.

A Growing Worldwide Problem

There have been riots in Bangladesh, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal. Rising prices have hit poor countries like Peru (and even developed countries like Italy and the United States).

A confluence of problems are driving the problem. They include soaring petroleum prices, which increase the cost of fertilizers, transport and food processing; rising demand for meat and dairy in China and India, resulting in increased costs for grain, used for cattle feed; and the ever-rising demand for raw materials to make biofuels.

As of December, 37 countries faced food crises, and 20 had imposed some sort of food-price controls. The U.N.'s World Food Program says it's facing a $500 million shortfall in funding this year to feed 89 million needy people.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that prices could continue to rise for several years.

"This is not a this-year phenomenon," Zoellick said.

The World Food Program blames soaring food prices on a convergence of rising energy costs, natural disasters linked to climate change, and competition for grain used to make bio-fuels like ethanol.

Program spokesperson Benita Luescher told CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller, "What we're seeing is a perfect storm."

On Friday, the Group of 24 Developing Countries urged advanced nations to step up financial aid to help them deal with the severe impact of higher food and energy prices and the turmoil in global financial markets.

The G-24 said that coordinated international action is needed to prevent the emergence of a larger crisis, and agreed the International Monetary Fund has an important role in responding to the current crisis. They also urged the IMF's sister institution, the World Bank, to increase advice and financial support.

Jean-Claude Masangu-Mulongo, chairman of the G-24 and governor of Congo's central bank, said the world was facing "an unprecedented financial crisis that began ... in the heart of the system, the United States, and is spreading."

He said a coordinated and collective international response led by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is needed.

The G-24 communique was unusual in the amount of advice it offered advanced countries. Usually the communiques speak of how the G-24 will deal with recommendations it receives from the rich countries and the international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. Ministers in several developing countries have noted smugly in recent months that the current crisis did not originate in one of their countries, as happened in the late 1990s, but in the United States, which enjoys the world's largest economy.

The G-24 welcomed a proposal made last month by the World Bank's Zoellick for a "New Deal for a Global Food Policy" to combat hunger and malnutrition through a combination of emergency aid and long-term efforts to boost agricultural productivity.

The problem of food shortages will also be discussed next week in Brazil at a regional meeting of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Delegates had already planned to discuss rapidly rising world food prices, and FAO regional director Jose Graziano said Haiti was urgently added to the agenda after this week's protests and looting.

But the FAO said on Friday that high food prices in the developing world are unlikely to subside anytime soon as price speculation and market failures reduce the effects of boosted production.

Some aid is on the way: the U.N. World Food Program has issued an emergency appeal to meet its US$96 million budget for Haiti this year, and France said on Thursday it would send food and other aid worth US$1.6 million.

At a tightly guarded warehouse in Port-au-Prince, World Food Program aid was being loaded onto trucks for distribution.

Brazil (which is leading the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Caribbean nation) is sending tons of food to Haiti to feed hungry residents following days of food riots in the impoverished nation.

A Brazilian air force plane is en route to Port-Au-Prince with 14 tons of food including beans, sugar and cooking oil.

Thousands Protest In Bangladesh

Dozens of people have been hurt in food rioting in Bangladesh, where one official said as many as 10,000 textile workers battled police today near the capital, Dhaka. The workers are demanding higher pay so they can keep up with rising food prices.

There is no word yet on how many people have been injured, or how badly, but police station official Angur Akter said at least 20 police officers were among those hurt.

Bangladesh, desperately poor and overpopulated, is being hard hit as the price of food skyrockets around the world. Nearly half of its 150 million people survive on incomes of less than a dollar a day.

Thirteen-year-old Mohammad Hasan stood at the back of a line of hundreds of people waiting to pick up government-subsidized rice in Dhaka. "I need to eat first, then school," he said.

An adviser to the country's Ministry of Food, A.M.M. Shawkat Ali, warned of a "hidden hunger" in Bangladesh and economists estimate 30 million of the country's 150 million people could go hungry - a crisis that could become a serious political problem for the military-backed government.

"We fear some 30 million of the ultra poor will not be able to afford three meals a day" said Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, a leading economist in Dhaka.

Bangladesh already faces a decrease in arable land due to industrialization and the ever-growing population. Its low-lying land also is reeling from major floods and a devastating cyclone last year that destroyed some 3 million tons of food crops and left millions homeless and hungry.

The price of rice, the core of the Bangladeshi diet, has jumped by more than 30 percent since then - a major problem in a country where nearly half the population survives on less than $1 a day.

The government, which has ruled Bangladesh since January 2007, has responded to the shortages with varying degrees of success. It has opened more than 6,000 outlets distributing rice at roughly half the market price and announced plans to open more.

But "the government failed to build enough stock of food immediately after last year's disasters, and because of that the situation has become volatile," said Ahmad, who heads an independent think tank, the Bangladesh Development Council.

"The government needs to build a buffer stock immediately. If the government fails, the situation will worsen," he said.

Major opposition parties have recently threatened street protests if the government fails to rein in rising prices and growing discontent could threaten the political balance.

India has agreed to ship 400,000 tons of heavily discounted rice to Bangladesh, but it could take weeks to arrive and officials are uncertain it will be enough. Because of high food prices, the Asian Development Bank warned that inflation could reach 9 percent by June.

U.N.: The World Is Entering "A New Era Of Hunger"

Against the backdrop of soaring commodity and fuel prices, government and private food aid groups from around the world are gathering next week in Missouri to grapple with the growing hunger crisis in some of the world's most impoverished regions.

The International Food Aid Conference, which begins Monday in Kansas City, Mo., is expected to draw more than 700 people from 25 countries. Among them will be Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer; Henrietta Fore, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development; and Jeffrey Borns, director of the nation's Food for Peace program.

Historically high prices for basic foodstuffs - aggravated by the weak U.S. dollar, crop failures in many countries, competition by the ethanol industry and skyrocketing transportation costs - have increasingly plagued relief agencies. At the same time, food riots have broken out recently in Haiti, Egypt, and other countries.

It is in this climate that those whose job it is to feed the poorest of the world will come together to discuss global hunger at a three-day conference in the heart of the United States' grain-growing region.

Eventually, talk is expected to turn to one of the Bush Administration's more controversial food aid proposals: saving transportation and other costs by buying 25 percent of the commodities the United States sends abroad from other countries rather than U.S. growers.

Almost all of the food aid the U.S. currently sends elsewhere is bought from American producers, said Jay Sjerven, president of the U.N. Association's Kansas City chapter, with the U.S. providing more than half of the food aid that goes abroad in any given year.

Part of the reason for this long-standing commitment is the broad support among U.S. producers, processors and charitable organizations to do this work, Sjerven said. That coalition may not be sustained if U.S. commodities are not used.

"It is not a matter that people will all of a sudden decide food aid is not a good idea or that they feel this is something we shouldn't do. But the fact is you have to get these appropriations through Congress. And if you are going to promote these programs through Congress, you have to have people who are going to be agitating on behalf of those programs," he said.

"Who is going to do that if you don't have producer organizations that are knocking on congressmen's door and saying, 'We really have to do this not only because we have a self-interest in it, but because it is the right thing to do because people need food and it is in the national security interest of the United States that we provide it'?" Sjerven said.

Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program and one of the conference speakers, recently warned the world was entering "a new era of hunger."

The WFP, the world's largest humanitarian agency, cited rising food costs when it appealed last month to donor nations for an additional $500 million to avoid cutting rations to some of the world's poorest populations.

Commodities - particularly wheat, corn and soybeans - are at all-time highs, meaning farmers are making more off of their products than they did even just a year ago, said Larry Adams, deputy administrator of commodity administration at the Farm Service Agency.

"It is a good thing. But on the other hand, it makes it more difficult for those trying to buy food supplements for the hungry," Adams said. "Budgets don't go as far."

Aggravating the problem is the fact that food shortages have led a number of countries to either suspend new exports or raise export taxes to discourage them, Sjerven said.

"This year, all these debates are taking place against the backdrop of a really crippling advance in commodity prices," Sjerven said.

He also noted it will be three to six months before the world starts harvesting wheat again.

"So we have a long way to go before we have a new crop. Even if it is a record crop that people are projecting on a world level, we have a long way to go before any of that wheat starts getting into the bellies of people," he said.


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