CANBERRA, Australia – Most of the developing world is paying more for food despite drops in commodity market prices during the global economic slowdown, with 200 million people joining the ranks of the hungry in the past two years, the U.N. World Food Program said Monday.
The agency's executive director Josette Sheeran blamed climate change, escalating fuel costs and falling incomes. She said the number of "urgently hungry" had now reached its highest ever — 1.02 billion.
"One out of six people in humanity will wake up not sure that they can even fill a cup of food," Sheeran told reporters. "We have to make no mistake that hunger is on the march."
She said while prices had tumbled on global commodities markets due to the financial crisis, the prices of most food staples in the developing world have soared.
"The food crisis is not over. We have an anomaly happening where on global, big markets, the prices are down, but for 80 percent of commodities in the developing world, prices are higher today than they were a year ago, and the prices a year ago were double what they were the year before that," she said.
"What it means is for about 80 percent of the developing world, people can afford one third as much food today as they could two or three years ago," she said.
Sheeran signed Monday a 140 million Australian dollar ($130 million) four-year aid agreement with the Australian government. The agreement includes AU$40 million to provide school meals in Southeast Asia, Africa and possibly South America and will add to the WFP's overall budget for global food aid.
Sheeran, who flew to Canberra from Manila on Sunday, said the Philippines could lose up to 1.1 million tons (one million metric tons) of rice because of the recent typhoons.
Africa and India were also losing crops due to drought and floods.
She said the two back-to-back typhoons in late September and early October that killed nearly 1,000 people in the Philippines, coupled with the Indonesia earthquake that killed more than 1,000 on western Sumatra and the recent tsunami that killed 183, mostly in Samoa, were examples of natural disasters becoming more frequent and ferocious in recent decades.
She said there had been a fourfold increase in the number of natural disasters in the past 20 years.
"All we know is that the world is facing increasingly frequent and ferocious natural disasters and the most vulnerable people and nations are getting hit hard and we better prepare now," she said.