THE UN urged rich countries on Monday to stump up the aid that they pledged at a food crisis summit last year after riots had erupted in underdeveloped countries over soaring prices.

UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) director Jacques Diouf and other delegates to an international meeting on food security in Madrid insisted that the global economic crisis must not cause donor countries to ignore the one billion people in the world that do not get enough to eat.

The forum, which was organised by Spain and the UN, is a follow-up to a 180-nation summit in Rome in June, where donors pledged $22 billion (£16bn) in aid to alleviate hunger.

Ministers or other officials from 95 countries are attending the meeting, which is expected to draw up a road map to ensure the enforcement of the Rome agreements and to stimulate agricultural production.

Mr Diouf did not say who had pledged what or accuse any country of reneging. He simply emphasised that ‘commitments made must lead to new resources very fast.’

Mr Diouf added that he hopes US President Barack Obama will play a ‘leading role’ in eradicating hunger, ‘starting with the US, an advanced country which has 31 million hungry people.’

The soaring prices for staples like rice that triggered riots in the underdeveloped world last year have come down somewhat, but they remain high compared to levels prior to the crisis.

The FAO food price index in December was 28 per cent above its 2005 level and 61 per cent higher than in 2000.

And a report from London-based think tank Chatham House issued on Monday warned that the uptrend is set to resume in the medium to longer term.

‘There is a real risk of a ‘food crunch’ at some point in the future, which would fall particularly hard on import-dependent countries and on poor people everywhere,’ the report said.

World Food Programme director Josette Shearan said that countries dependent on agriculture run the risk of getting left out as the rich world focuses on tumbling stock markets, flagging economic growth and failing banks.

Ms Shearan identified four ways in which the financial meltdown is exacerbating world hunger – remittances to poor countries like Haiti are down, countries that depend on exports of farm goods are suffering because of the economic slowdown in buyer countries, investment in agricultural infrastructure is declining and the credit crunch is particularly painful for small farmers who need to borrow money for seeds and other supplies.

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The Morning Star is the socialist daily newspaper published in Great Britain.

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