Ethiopia’s food crisis tops agenda on final day of UN humanitarian chief’s visit

3 September 2008

The effects of rising food costs in Ethiopia, where prices have increased up to 500 per cent over the last year, was the focus of discussions between key local and international officials and the United Nations humanitarian chief, who today wrapped up a three-day visit to the country.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes chaired a meeting in Addis Ababa with the head of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, World Bank representatives, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the crisis, which – combined with drought – has left some 4.6 million people in need of food aid.

“Ethiopia presents a glaring example of the challenges posed by rising food prices,” said Mr. Holmes, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

He noted that prices have increased up to 500 per cent in some parts of the country over the past year. Wheat and maize prices, for example, have risen an estimated 171 per cent.

The price surge has been driven by a number of factors, including a growth in demand, as well as a drop in crop production due to droughts.

“Given the complexity of issues, there is a need for strong partnership among all relevant stakeholders to ensure the most comprehensive and coordinated policies to respond to both the challenges and opportunities resulting from food price rises,” he added.

Mr. Holmes chaired today’s meeting in his capacity as the Coordinator of the High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in April to promote a unified response to the challenges posed by the issue.

Over the course of his visit, Mr. Holmes had the opportunity to talk with Government officials, relief groups and individuals on the humanitarian situation in the country. Yesterday, he visited the Somali region, which has been hard-hit by drought, high food prices and ongoing conflict. At a refugee screening centre, he met Somali refugees and Ethiopians desperately seeking aid.

He noted that the absence of humanitarian assistance has driven many Ethiopians to adopt the status of asylum-seekers, in the hope of obtaining food, shelter and medical care.

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