U.N. Issues Emergency Appeal for Food Funds

In the face of rising food and fuel costs, the U.N. World Food Program is making an extraordinary appeal for donations. According to reports, at least 37 countries face food crises, and 20 have imposed some sort of food-price controls.

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Food prices are high, and so are fears for the world's poorest nations. According to CNN, at least 37 countries face food crises, and 20 have imposed some sort of food price controls. The United Nations World Food Program is issuing what it calls a, quote, "extraordinary emergency appeal for funds." The agency says if it fails to raise 500 million dollars by May 1st, it may have to cut food rations.

MARTIN: The call for donations came in a letter from World Food Program executive director Josette Sheeran that was sent to donor nations over the weekend.

STEWART: Sheeran blamed skyrocketing food and fuel costs for the shortfall in funding. The program, based in Rome, has attempted to deal with increasing costs by turning to local food providers, with some success. But they say it hasn't been enough to overcome a 55 percent jump in food costs since last summer.

MARTIN: While the agency has issued emergency appeals in the past, this is the first time the World Food Program has taken such a step because of a market-generated crisis.

STEWART: The agency feeds at least 73 million people in 80 countries every year, with an annual operating budget of 2.9 billion dollars. The U.S. contributes more than any other country, 40 percent of the program's funding.

MARTIN: And a Government Accountability Office report says American mismanagement is partly to blame for a 43 percent decline in the amount of food aid U.S. aid agencies delivered over a five-year period. Nearly two-thirds of the money the U.S. spends on food aid goes to transportation, storage and handling costs. That's according to the report.

STEWART: Now, USA Today points out that a big reason for that is a 1954 law which mandates that all such aid come in the form of food instead of cash, and that the food be grown on American soil. That means as the cost of fuel goes up, the cost of getting all that food to countries in need, well, that increases as well.

MARTIN: The U.S. Agency for International Development says buying food from nations closer to problem spots could save 25 percent of ocean shipping costs alone. The Senate opened the door for some third party food purchases in their version of the most recent farm bill, but the House left that provision out.

STEWART: The World Food Program is accepting donations through its website wfp.org. Now, let's get some more of today's headlines.

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