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G8 Leaders Urged to Turn Attention to Food Crisis

Ahead of the Group of Eight summit in Japan next week, World Bank President Robert Zoellick is calling on world leaders to renew their focus on the global food crisis what efforts to address food shortages as commodities' values escalate.

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    Ahead of an annual meeting of G-8 countries next week, World Bank head Robert Zoellick is calling on world leaders to do more to address the global rise in commodity prices.

    The combination of record oil prices and high and rising food prices is causing hunger and malnutrition in over 40 countries. Zoellick calls the situation a "manmade catastrophe that must be fixed by people." He joins us now to tell us more.

    And, Ambassador Zoellick, why manmade catastrophe? Was this somebody's intention?

  • ROBERT ZOELLICK, President, World Bank:

    Well, my point is some have talked about this as a silent tsunami or a perfect storm. And what I'm trying to emphasize is that the causes of this are ones that are basically created by people, and so we have to focus on agenda to fix them.

    Now, the causes are in part because of extra demand for food and fuel around the world, but there's also some mistaken policies, such as restrictions on export that make it hard for even the World Food Programme to buy humanitarian supplies. Some of the biofuels policies I think will need to be adjusted.

    So what we're trying to focus on going into the G-8 is some of the short-term measures to try to provide the safety net support for the most vulnerable in need, also some of the short-term supplies for seed and fertilizers to help with a production response in developing countries, and to try to get at this terrible problem of the export bans or restrictions, at least for the humanitarian supplies.


    There's been a very steep spike, as you noted in your report, in both oil and food prices around the world. But what are the effects that you would see in towns and villages among the poorest people in the world? What impact is the crisis having there?


    Well, at the biggest level, you're right, we're really in a danger zone because of the combination of the food and fuel. And so we estimate that, for some 40 or 50 countries, you could have a decline of 3 percent to 10 percent in their GDP, that you could have 100 million people pushed into poverty.

    But the most practical way to look at this is a country like Liberia, where President Johnson-Sirleaf has tried after two decades of horror to get that country on the right track, but food prices in January rose some 25 percent; that pushed another 200,000 people into poverty; and that means 70 percent of that country is below the poverty line.

    How can you re-establish a democracy and rebuild a country under those conditions? These are the types of situations that leaders that are trying to move forward with reforms, trying to build a growth agenda are facing.

    And that's why we need both the developed countries and some of the major oil producers to help them get through this patch. And then the possibility that is optimistic is, is that, if we also increase production and productivity in developing countries in agriculture, they can take advantage of these higher prices.