UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- A rapidly escalating global food crisis has reached emergency proportions and threatens to wipe out seven years of progress in the fight against poverty, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Monday.
He called for short-term emergency measures in many regions to meet urgent food needs and avoid starvation and urged longer-term efforts to significantly increase production of food grains.
The international community needs "to take urgent and concerted action in order to avoid the larger political and security implications of this growing crisis," Ban told international finance and trade officials who came to a U.N. meeting following weekend talks in Washington.
Ban's appeal came as President Bush ordered the release of $200 million in emergency aid to help nations where surging food prices have deepened hunger woes and sparked violent protests. The money will come from a reserve fund known as the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said the move will help address the impact of rising commodity prices on U.S. emergency food aid programs and help meet the unanticipated food needs of struggling countries in Africa and elsewhere.
Bush's move came one day after World Bank President Robert Zoellick's appealed to governments to quickly provide the U.N. World Food Program with $500 million in emergency aid that it needs by May 1.
Zoellick said the international community has "to put our money where our mouth is" to deal with rapidly rising food prices that have caused hunger and deadly violence in several countries.
Ban said the recent steep rise in food prices "has already raised the cost of WFP's needs to maintain its current operations from $500 million to $755 million."
WFP, the world's largest humanitarian agency, issued an "extraordinary emergency appeal" for the $500 million last month, saying the money was needed by May 1 to avoid cutting rations to some of the world's most impoverished regions. The Rome-based agency said its funding gap was growing weekly.
"The rapidly escalating crisis of food availability around the world has reached emergency proportions," Ban said.
"The World Bank has estimated that the doubling of food prices over the last three years could push 100 million people in low income countries deeper into poverty," he said.
Ban echoed Zoellick in warning that that the food crisis "could mean seven lost years in the fight against worldwide poverty."
U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes offered a more cautious assessment.
While it is "a very serious problem which has global ramifications," Holmes said, "I think we should be a little bit careful of being too alarmist about it and suggesting there are mass problems around the corner, or that it's a global emergency we have to solve with every detail tomorrow."
He stressed, however, that the $500 million sought by WFP did not cover potential future needs, including those "that might arise from price rises ... or if the number of desperately hungry people in a country doubles."
The United Nations is at a midpoint in its campaign to reduce global poverty and improve living standards of the world's bottom billion people. The Millennium Development Goals, adopted at a U.N. summit in 2000, include cutting extreme poverty in half by 2015.
The World Bank's Development Committee urged both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund "to provide timely policy and financial support ... to countries dealing with negative shocks including from energy and food shortages," said Mexican finance official Ricardo Ochoa, who spoke on behalf of the committee.
IMF Deputy Managing Director Murilo Portugal said emerging markets and developing countries have shown resilience but their growth prospects have moderated and inflation risks have increased.
"For many countries, containing inflation and addressing vulnerabilities will remain a key priority," Portugal said.