Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced today that he will lead a high-powered task force to coordinate the efforts of the United Nations system in addressing the global crisis arising from the surge in food prices.
The Task Force on the Global Food Crisis will bring together the heads of UN agencies, funds and programmes and the Bretton Woods institutions, as well as experts within the UN and leading authorities from the international community.
The group will have two coordinators – Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes in New York and Senior UN System Influenza Coordinator David Nabarro in Geneva – and expects to meet in the first week of May.
The announcement came after a two-day meeting of the Chief Executive Board (CEB) – which brings together 27 heads of UN agencies, funds and programmes – chaired by the Secretary-General in the Swiss city of Bern.
In a press communiqué issued following the meeting, the CEB called on the international community to urgently provide the $755 million in emergency funds needed for the UN to feed millions of hungry people worldwide, as the first of a series of concrete measures to be taken.
“We see mounting hunger and increasing evidence of malnutrition which has severely strained the capacities of humanitarian agencies to meet humanitarian needs, especially as promised funding has not yet materialized,” Mr. Ban told a news conference in Bern.
He warned that “without full funding of these emergency requirements, we risk again the spectre of widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale.”
Protests and riots have broken out in some countries over the rising cost of many basic foods, such as rice, wheat and corn. Mr. Ban noted that escalating energy prices, lack of investment in agriculture, increasing demand, trade distortion subsidies and recurrent bad weather are among the reasons for the surge in prices.
The food crisis “threatens to undo all our good work,” Mr. Ban noted later in the day in a lecture delivered in Geneva, the first of a series organized by the UN office there and the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).
“If not managed properly, it could touch off a cascade of related crises – affecting trade, economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world,” he said.
In addition to the immediate priority of feeding the hungry, Mr. Ban emphasized the need to “ensure food for tomorrow,” by giving small farmers the support they need to assure their next harvest.
UN agencies are already taking concrete measures to address the crisis. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has proposed an emergency initiative to provide low-income countries with the seeds and inputs to boost production and is calling for $1.7 billion in funding.
In addition, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is making available an additional $200 million to poor farmers in the most affected countries to boost food production.
“I am confident that we can deal with the global food crisis. We have the resources. We have the knowledge. We know what to do. We should therefore consider this not only as a problem but also as an opportunity,” the Secretary-General added, as he called on world leaders to attend the High-Level Conference on Food Security, to be held in Rome from 3 to 5 June.