Friends, please allow me to publish this statement by World Bank president Robert B. Zoellick after a meeting in Berne, Switzerland of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (April 29 2008).
The next few weeks are critical for addressing the food crisis. For 2 billion people, high food prices are now a matter of daily struggle, sacrifice and for too many, even survival. We estimate that already some 100 million people may have been pushed into poverty as a result of high prices over the last 2 years. This is not a natural disaster. Make no mistake, there is nothing natural about this. But for millions of people it is a disaster.
Donors must act now to support the WFP’s call for some $755 million to meet emergency needs. Roughly $475 million has been pledged, but pledges won’t feed hungry mouths. Donors must put their money on the table, and give WFP maximum flexibility – with a minimum of earmarking – to target the most urgent needs.
This crisis isn’t over once emergency needs are addressed, as critical as those are. Though we have seen wheat prices fall over the last few days, rice and corn prices are likely to remain high, and wheat relatively so. The international community needs to commit to working together to respond with policy initiatives, so that this year’s crisis doesn’t become a generation’s fact of life. Already hunger and malnutrition, are the underlying causes of death of over 3.5 million children every year, robbing the future potential of many millions more.
Many donors, governments and international agencies have plans and policies. Over the last days we have seen pledges of financial support. The key now is to work together so that we can have an integrated international response.
So I thank the Secretary General for convening this session of UN Chief Executives to help organize the UN response.
Ministers from over 150 countries have endorsed a New Deal for Global Food Policy. We must turn these words into action.
As we discussed here in Berne, a New Deal must embrace a short, medium and long-term response: support for safety nets such as school feeding, food for work, and conditional cash transfer programs; increased agricultural production; a better understanding of the impact of biofuels and action on the trade front to reduce distorting subsidies, and trade barriers.
The World Bank Group will work with the UN agencies represented here to identify countries most in need so that, with others, we can provide concessional financing and other support. We are already working closely with the IMF and regional development banks, to integrate our work.
At the World Bank Group, we are exploring with our Board the creation of a rapid financing facility for grant support to especially fragile, poor countries and quicker, more flexible financing for others. To address supply issues, we are doubling our lending for agriculture in Africa over the next year to $800 million.
We are urging countries not to use export bans. These controls encourage hoarding, drive up prices and hurt the poorest people around the world who are struggling to feed themselves.
Ukraine set a good example last week by lifting restrictions on exports of grains. This had an immediate effect by lowering prices in the markets. Others can do the same.
As we co-ordinate action, we must bring in the private sector and agri-business.
These are all critical issues for international action that must be fleshed out in the coming weeks so that millions do not find themselves in this same position next year.
But first and foremost donors must act now to meet the emergency and raise the $750 million for the WFP. The world can afford this. The poor and hungry cannot.