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20th Sep 2019

EU aid chief says rising food prices risk African 'humanitarian tsunami'

  • Rises in the price of staple food items is causing riots across the developing world (Photo: EUobserver)

As food riots sweep the developing world, the EU's foreign aid chief has warned that sky-rocketing food price rises threaten a "humanitarian tsunami" in Africa, and has promised a boost in aid to support food security.

"A global food crisis is becoming apparent," said EU humanitarian aid commissioner Louis Michel after a meeting with African Union Commission President Jean Ping, "less visible than the oil crisis, but with the potential effect of a real economic and humanitarian tsunami in Africa."

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The commissioner said that the EU would boost aid for agricultural and rural development for Africa from the European Development Funds from its current €650 million to €1.2 billion.

In recent weeks, food riots have swept the developing world as UN World Food Programme officials warn that a 'perfect storm' of poor harvests, rising fuel prices, the growth of biofuels and increased pressure from a growing middle class in China and India is rapidly increasing world hunger.

The last two days have seen food riots in Egypt over a doubling of the price of staple food items in the past year. Some 40 people died in similar riots in Cameroon in February, with violent demonstrations also recently taking place in Senegal, the Ivory Coast, and Mauritania.

Less deadly protests in the last week have also occurred in Cambodia, Indonesia, Mozambique, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Bolivia.

In the last week in Haiti, five people have been killed in riots over price rises for rice, beans and fruit, with protesters attempting to storm the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday (8 April), while UN staff in Jordan have gone on a one-day strike this week asking for a pay rise to deal with the 50 percent increase in prices.

Elsewhere, China, Vietnam, India and Pakistan are introducing restrictions on rice exports.

The UN's undersecretary for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, John Holmes, on Tuesday said that rising food prices are threatening political stability throughout the developing world.

"The security implications [of the food crisis] should also not be underestimated as food riots are already being reported across the globe," said Mr Holmes, speaking at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development (DIHAD) Conference, according to the Guardian. "Current food price trends are likely to increase sharply both the incidence and depth of food insecurity," he added.

Kanayo Nwanza, vice president of the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) said on Tuesday: "Escalating social unrest as we have seen in Cameroon, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and in Senegal could spread to other countries," reports AFP.

African finance ministers met last week in Addis Ababa to consider the food crisis. In a statement, the ministers warned that food price rises "pose significant threats to Africa's growth, peace and security."

Last month, the head of the UN World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, said that high oil prices, low food stocks, growing demand from China and the push for biofuels are causing a food crisis around the world.

"We are seeing a new face of hunger," she said. "We are seeing more urban hunger than ever before. We are seeing food on the shelves but people being unable to afford it."

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