The prices of basic staples — wheat, corn, rice — are at record highs, up 50 percent or more in the past six months. Global food stocks are at historic lows. The causes range from rising demand in major economies such as India and China to climate-and weather-related events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts that have devastated harvests in many parts of the world. High oil prices have increased the cost of transporting food and purchasing fertilizer. Some experts say the rise of biofuels has reduced the amount of food available for humans.
The effects are widely seen. Food riots have erupted from West Africa to South Asia. In countries where food has to be imported to feed hungry populations, communities are rising to protest the high cost of living. Fragile democracies are feeling the pressure of food insecurity. Many governments have issued export bans and price controls on food, distorting markets and presenting challenges to commerce.
In January, to cite one example, Afghan President Hamid Karzai appealed for $77 million to help provide food for more than 2.5 million people pushed over the edge by rising prices. He drew attention to an alarming fact: The average Afghan household now spends about 45 percent of its income on food, up from 11 percent in 2006.
This, says Ban, is the new face of hunger. And it can be alleviated, in part, by boosting the World Food Program by $500 million to help cover this rapid rise in food costs. Other solutions, like inspiring a new green revolution in sub-Saharan Africa, are more long-term. But for the here and now, increasing what member states donate to the World Food Program, which feeds 73 million people globally, would be an effective stop-gap to prevent the kind of chaos predicted by Ban.