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WB warns of human catastrophe from food crisis

TBP Desk
22 Apr 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 22 Apr 2022 00:51:49
WB warns of human catastrophe from food crisis
People queue to buy subsidised food in Dhaka– Shamsul Haque Ripon

The world faces a "human catastrophe" from a food crisis arising from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, World Bank President David Malpass has said.

“Record rises in food prices would push hundreds of millions people into poverty and lower nutrition, if the crisis continues,” he said during an interview with BBC.

Food costs might rise by a "huge" 37 per cent, according to the World Bank.

This would disproportionately affect the poor, who will " eat less and have less money for anything else such as schooling."

Malpass, who heads the organisation tasked with global poverty alleviation, told BBC economics editor Faisal Islam that the impact on the poor made it "an unfair form of crisis... that was true also of Covid."

"It's a human catastrophe, meaning nutrition goes down. But then it also becomes a political challenge for governments who can't do anything about it, they didn't cause it and they see the prices going up," Malpass said on the sidelines of the IMF-World Bank meetings in Washington.

The price rises are broad and deep, he said: "It's affecting food of all different kinds oils, grains, and then it gets into other crops, corn crops, because they go up when wheat goes up".

“There was enough food in the world to feed everybody, and global stockpiles are large by historical standards, but there will have to be a sharing or sales process to get the food to where it is needed,” he said.

Malpass also discouraged countries from subsidising production or capping prices. Instead, he said, the focus needed to be on increasing supplies across the world of fertilisers and food, alongside targeted assistance for the very poorest people.

The World Bank chief also warned of a knock on "crisis within a crisis" arising from the inability of developing countries to service their large pandemic debts, amid rising food and energy prices.

"This is a very real prospect. It's happening for some countries, we don't know how far it'll go. As many as 60 per cent of the poorest countries right now are either in debt distress or at high risk of being in debt distress," he said.

"We have to be worried about a debt crisis, the best thing to do is to start early to act early on finding ways to reduce the debt burden for countries that are on have unsustainable debt, the longer you put it off, the worse it is," he added.

Earlier this month, the United Nations said that the Ukraine war had led to a "giant leap" in food prices, as they hit a new record high in March.

It came as the war cut off supplies from the world's biggest exporter of sunflower oil and the cost of alternatives climbed.

Ukraine is also a major producer of cereals such as maize and wheat which have risen sharply in price too.

The UN said "war in the Black Sea region spread shocks through markets for staple grains and vegetable oils".

The UN Food Prices Index tracks the world's most-traded food commodities - measuring the average prices of cereal, vegetable oil, dairy, meat, and sugar.

Food prices are at their highest since records began 60 years ago, according to the index, after they jumped nearly 13 per cent in March, following February's record high.