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Food crisis looms: aid group

International aid organization Oxfam is warning that this summer’s drought in key food producing countries is putting millions of poor people at risk and bad political decisions play a role.

In an August report, the non-governmental organization said drought in North America, Russia and Ukraine is cutting the amount of food available, raising prices beyond the reach of many poor countries and creating a multibillion-dollar need for food crisis funding that is not being met.

As it has in the past, Oxfam also lashed out at government support for biofuel content in fuel that diverts millions of tonnes of corn in the United States to fuel consumption from food.

And it called for a more generous food aid response.

The result is a looming humanitarian catastrophe, said the aid group.

“Millions of the world’s poorest people will face devastation from today’s rocketing food prices because the global food system is fatally flawed and policy makers can’t find the courage to fix it,” said the Oxfam report.

“Policy makers have taken cheap food for granted for nearly 30 years. Those days are gone.”

It said this year has produced a record number of food crisis emergencies that include growing hunger and starvation in the Sahel region of West Africa.

Yet economic problems in developed donor countries mean that while $7.83 billion (US) is needed to provide food for crisis areas such as the Sahel, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan, just $3.74 billion has been pledged so far.

And as food commodity prices continue to soar, aid dollars do not go as far to purchase needed food for distribution.

Oxfam said part of the blame rests with “crazy” biofuel mandates that require a percentage of fuel to come from biofuel in countries like the United States and Canada. Mandates are major contributors to food shortages and soaring prices, argued Oxfam.

The report used the example of Yemen, where it said imports of key commodities such as wheat account for 90 percent of supply.

Oxfam said 10 million people in the country are hungry “and some 267,000 (are) at risk of death from malnutrition because people can’t afford what food there is.”

It said countries where populations are merely hanging on as food prices soar soon could slip into crisis.

“Other fragile populations around the world, living on or near the poverty line, will be dragged under by price spikes and volatility,” it said.

“Nearly a billion people are already too poor to feed themselves so any long-term food spike is guaranteed to trap millions more who now are just getting by.”

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